Student Perspective: Giving More Than Just Time

Already known for organizing popular social and cultural events on campus, The Wharton Graduate Association felt it could be doing more — so the student organization launched a day-long community event inspired by a top firm’s commitment to employee volunteerismTrisha Chhaya, WG’14, reflects on The Wharton School’s first student-run Impact Day.

Attendees at one of five faculty-led nonprofit workshops during the inaugural Wharton Impact Day on March 28, 2014.
Attendees at one of five faculty-led nonprofit workshops during the inaugural Wharton Impact Day on March 28, 2014.

How do you measure impact? Is it the number of volunteers you send to an organization? The quality of work that those volunteers do? Or in the context of nonprofit organizations, does measured impact mean thinking about the organization from a higher level, and helping leaders create an effective and sustainable strategy? At  Wharton, the MBA community believes it is all of the above.

At the end of March, The Wharton Graduate Association (WGA) successfully launched its inaugural Wharton Impact Day, connecting the student body and the University’s renowned faculty with leaders from the local nonprofit community. Built on pillars of service and organizational impact, Wharton Impact Day sent 150 volunteers from its MBA program for hands-on work in the Philadelphia, and hosted five educational business workshops on campus for area nonprofit leaders and professionals.

“The workshops touched on various relevant subjects, and the speakers engaged the professionals to direct their knowledge in the most applicable way,” explains undergrad Elise Jun, C’14. “It was also a great chance for nonprofit professionals to meet their colleagues, becoming more aware of the specific projects and perspectives that exist in the Philadelphia nonprofit field. Overall, it was a dynamic, interactive and educational experience for all that attended.”


During the service portion of the all-day event, volunteers headed to Philabundance, the region’s largest food relief organization, Cradles to Crayons, an organization donating supplies to low income families, and Rebuilding Together, a group that nationally strives to improve the lives of low income homeowners. Volunteers during Impact Day restocked shelves at Philabundance, assembled packages of school supplies for students, and executed complex home improvement projects in West Philadelphia communities.

Wharton MBA candidate Jenny Tsai was deeply moved by her experience.

“Volunteering with Philabundance opened my eyes to how the recent global financial crisis has hurt middle-income families, and the opportunity Philabundance gives these families to get back on their feet.”

“I was impressed by Philabundance’s massive operation, from the number of partners they work with, as well as the number of volunteers they involve,” Tsai continues.

A series of workshops led by professors and doctoral students touched upon topics such as power and influence, entrepreneurship in a nonprofit setting, and the marketing and statistics behind charitable giving. Attendees enjoyed spirited discussion on how best to engage individual donors – an important lesson, as this demographic makes up 72% of most nonprofits’ donor base, according to Cecily Wallman-Stokes of Penn’s Center for High Impact Philanthropy.

Speakers included Marketing Professors Deborah Small and Peter Fader, Entrepreneurship Professor James Thompson, Wharton Lecturer Stephen Sammut, and applied economics doctoral student Yiwei Zhang who discussed nonprofit funding from the perspective of marketing to individual donors, innovation in the nonprofit sector, and donor patterns and targeting.

Management Professor Samir Nurmohamed also led an engaging workshop that analyzed influence tactics of liking and reciprocity and applied them to challenges that members from audience were facing.

The nonprofit environment is tougher than ever, and as we learned during the sessions, it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways to market organizations’ missions and brands both internally and externally, using metrics and psychology.

This day created the first two-way platform for Wharton MBA academics and the Philadelphia nonprofits professionals and leaders.  Good research cannot exist in a world where its application is obsolete and organizations are not understood from the ground level up. Through Impact Day, the WGA is pleased to have created a new collaborative, community experience to to kickstart community impact.

About the Author: Trisha Chhaya is a second year MBA candidate with a focus on finance and entrepreneurship, and served as an organizer for the first Impact Day. Previously, she served as a summer associate with Deloitte, and worked in venture capital and private equity.