Capstone Students Help Raise $4.3 Million for San Antonio Nonprofits

May 12, 2015

May 12, 2015 – The fifth of May marks a day of commemoration and victory, a day of culture and community. Most commonly known for the celebration of Cinco de Mayo, this year the fifth delivered a new reason for San Antonians to fiesta. Through the spirit and generosity of Central and South Texas communities, The Big Give San Antonio, an annual 24-hour philanthropic marathon, raised $4.3 million for local nonprofit organizations.

Students from the H-E-B School of Business & Administration (HEBSBA) at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) played a major role in helping The Big Give reach their goal. In partnership with the San Antonio Nonprofit Council, the HEBSBA's pioneering capstone course took the responsibility of The Big Give's social media presence. Tweets, shares and posts, students took to the social grid for the second consecutive year.

Assisting an organization create their online footprint is no small task. To prepare for the event, students dove into market research, producing analyses of online donor demographics, determining best practices for each platform, and creating viable implementation strategies. “We developed toolkits and held information sessions for nonprofits to come learn and ask questions about the platforms,” said Twitter team member Melanie Hershel.

Students spent the semester creating digital hype for the upcoming event by putting together online contests and stirring synergy by reaching out to brand ambassadors in the community. The Instagram scavenger hunts and Youtube competitions sound like playground fun, but the tactics served practical purposes for the teams. “The first step in the process was to get nonprofits actively involved before the actual day of the event,” said Youtube team leader Anthony Horton. “It was important to help them through the process, it can get confusing and overwhelming, especially for the smaller nonprofits.”

The Big Give San Antonio attracted 882 nonprofits in its second year. Local nonprofit giants like the San Antonio Food Bank and KIPP San Antonio led in money totals, but the event specializes in giving smaller nonprofits a needed hand. In 2014, Guide Dogs of Texas, the only guide dog school for the visually impaired in Texas, discovered just how much capstone students cared about the day's mission. “We met plenty of UIW students and they did a great job of helping us promote. We felt they helped carry us along the way,” said Marketing Manager April Medellin. “We didn't only meet our goal, we doubled it and a lot of that was due to the contribution of the UIW crew.”

In 2014, the inaugural year for The Big Give San Antonio, capstone students assisted over 467 nonprofits raise over $2 million in donations, double the initial goal set by the fundraiser. The previous year's success set the bar high for the new group of seniors, high enough that the 2015 goal would be doubled. “This year we included the 11 counties that surround Bexar, so we almost doubled the amount of nonprofits involved this year” said Big Give Consultant John Burnam. “So why not double the fundraising goal?”

The San Antonio metropolitan area came in fourth nationally in total money raised and first, for the second consecutive year, in donations with 39,300 unique donors. “Although our money total came in behind cities like Seattle, we have the largest donor pool, said Burnam. “I think that speaks volumes for the class of citizens we have in South Central Texas.” San Antonio not only snagged the number one spot in donors, but it also has the biggest Facebook profile in the country with over 12,500 page likes.

For students, the financial success of The Big Give wasn't the only victory. The business insight students gain is crucial in preparing them for the transition into their careers. “This is more than just a group project, you're working directly with clients,” said management information systems major Michelle Hershel. Through partnerships with area organizations, capstone allows students to take knowledge gained in the classroom and apply it to solve real-world problems. “It's four years of college rolled into one semester, so everything I've learned I'm able to apply it in this course,” said Facebook team member Jamie Durcan. “It's not just a class either, it's a real-world experience. We get to offer our education and skill sets to assist an organization in achieving its goals.”

At midnight, the headquarters of The Big Give was filled with excitement as another year was finalized a success. “The excitement was palpable, like you're at a professional football or basketball game,” said Linkedin team member Joe Herrera. Students again showed their commitment to their community and the UIW spirit of service. “The production we've seen this year is going to be hard to top,” commented capstone instructor and Professor of Management Dr. David Vequist. “We ask our students to improve upon the strategies of the previous year and the recommendations we've had this year were beyond expectation.”

As the seniors delivered their final presentations, they said goodbye to their college years and prepared for their next challenge: life after graduation. “The experience has been great, I can't believe it's over,” said international business major and Linkedin team member Alexander Alvarez. “Now, it's time for the business world.”