Kelly Cope

Many nonprofit groups native to San Luis Obispo received a welcome surprise last fall in the form of $10,000 in donations and gifts-in-kind after students in PSY 351, group dynamics, took them on as part of a group project focusing on fund raising.

This quarter, Shawn Burn, professor and associate chair for the psychology and child development department, said she hopes to continue the success her previous students have seen. To ensure this, at the beginning of the assignment she will test her students by suggesting a reasonable expectation of how much the students should accumulate -and it won’t be a low number.

“As a whole, my students raise between $7,000 and $10,000 in just a month,” Burn said. When she first began assigning the project as part of her curriculum five years ago, she didn’t have any idea what they would come up with. The focus is more on “putting (theory) into practice,” explained Burn.

“One year ago, the class almost reached ($10,000). The next class- felt challenged (to reach that amount),” Burn said. And they succeeded.

Winter quarter’s class produced a strong result, raising about $8,500.

The class generally found that time and organization were the biggest challenges in reaching their goals. “We had a very limited amount of time and there was a great deal of pressure. We had to arrange for plans A, B and C in case initial strategies didn’t work,” psychology junior Brett South said.

Child development senior Shelby Hyosaka wasn’t sure her class realized their potential at the beginning of the assignment. “I don’t think that as a class we knew what we were capable of. (Fall quarter’s) class had raised a lot of money which made it a very intimidating act to follow,” she said.

Some students believed that they would have reached a higher goal had it not been for poor weather conditions during the quarter. Psychology junior Marlena Matusewicz’s group suffered a setback at the hands of Mother Nature.

“Many groups planned on participating in fund-raising activities that are usually held outdoors, such as the Farmers’ Market downtown or UU on campus. The second-to-last week of the quarter, Farmer’s Market was actually cancelled due to a storm, which affected my group because it was the most important event we planned,” she said.

The course is structured to allow students to learn tactics in the first month, which deal with disagreement, using effective communication, encouraging efficiency, successful group leadership and furthering teamwork.

In the second month the students actually test their skills and follow the university’s credo of “learn by doing.”

The project is designed to be an exercise in how to “run groups, set goals- and adjust (them) on a performance basis,” explained Burn.

Students start with about $100 at the beginning of the project, supplied by the psychology and child development department, and are expected to gather measurable things, as they are also required to monitor their success. Since the aim of the project is to help the nonprofit organizations thrive, typical collections include money or goods that the organizations may need.

Students have also enjoyed some success with collection of material items. Burn estimates that her students usually gather about 1,000 to 3,000 items during the course of the project.

The project is a fairly independent one, in that students set their own goals and strategies to reach the goals. Burn stipulates that students “must democratically choose a nonprofit organization that embodies the values held by all group members,” in order to more easily facilitate fund raising.

“Research says that all members have to be committed to [the group’s] goals” in order for their purpose to be accomplished successfully, Burn said. The democratic process of choosing an organization to sponsor helps the members, when thinking about what their personal values are, to discover common interests within the group and this aids the collection process.

The project has helped many organizations, including Hospice of San Luis Obispo, Family Care Network, the Child Development Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Woods Humane Society, the Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter, and the Teen Academic Parenting Program.

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