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UAlbany Students Donate #Brainpower to Help Area's Underserved

School of Business Social Media Class Supports Non-Profit's Mission

Students in Suraj Commuri's social media class are flanked by Grassroot Givers co-directors Roberta Sandler and Mary Partridge-Brown, and UAlbany's assistant chief information officer for policy and communications Lisa Trubitt and her husband Spiro Socaris. (Photo and story, courtesy of Michele Flynn) 

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 25, 2015) – What’s a hashtag for a win-win proposition?

While a small, area nonprofit was exploring ways to promote its 6-year-old organization, a University at Albany School of Business social media class sought a real life project where they could make a difference.

Enter Grassroot Givers, a not-for-profit organization committed to making a direct link between community needs and those who have resources to share.

Grassroot Givers “gives with dignity,” collecting high quality household items, books and clothing to distribute to underserved populations through a store in the old YMCA building in Albany.  

Co-directors Roberta Sandler and Mary Partridge-Brown have plenty of customers: 500 people pass through their doors each month, and they receive ongoing contributions of goods, but need financial donations to help pay the bills. “As a small nonprofit, we don’t have a development office. It is just us,” said Sandler.

A retired pediatric nurse, Sandler started Grassroot Givers in 2009, after collecting household items for a family that had lost everything in a house fire. Partridge-Brown, is a former school administrator and teacher, and focuses on book donations. Sandler and Partridge-Brown are both unpaid.

Grassroots Givers board member Lisa Trubitt who is also UAlbany’s assistant chief information officer for policy and communications, and School of Business Marketing Chair Suraj Commuri connected the two groups. Commuri offers a live project in every class in social media marketing, providing students with the opportunity to apply course material.

In the fall, UAlbany students met with Grassroot Givers. Sandler and Partridge-Brown were impressed with the research conducted by the students and how well they understood the non-profit environment. Trubitt was similarly impressed, “It is gratifying to give real world opportunity to the students. They rose to the occasion and came up with some amazing ideas.”

Students in the undergraduate class proposed several ways for Grassroot Givers to connect with their generation, the millennials, particularly through social media accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. They recommended utilizing Hootsuite to streamline the management of these accounts and Square as a way to accept credit cards on smartphones and tablets. They suggested using a QR, or quick response code, to allow the public to access the organization’s newly enhanced online presence. The students also proposed a crowd-funding strategy: offering handmade Livestrong-type bracelets for a donation, to spread awareness and raise funds for the organization.

UAlbany marketing/finance student Brett Kramer ’15 said, “Building a business isn’t easy. We weren’t getting paid for our work with them but they don’t get paid either. I’d rather have an assignment that helps someone. It’s more than a grade.”

Nearly half of the 800 business students enrolled in the School of Business have chosen marketing as a full or combined concentration. Other concentrations offered are entrepreneurship, information technology management, management/finance and management/ITM and the Financial Analyst Honors Program. The school also offers undergraduate degrees in digital forensics and accounting.

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A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.