First Year Seminar (FYS) students at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business recently participated in a case competition, a culmination of their research and efforts toward solving a challenge faced by a nonprofit organization. This year’s nonprofit was Evidence Action, an organization focused on alleviating poverty in Africa and Asia using statistics-driven, evidence-based measurement techniques. Students were asked to develop a solution to the organization’s challenge of appealing to broader audiences and donors while still maintaining their commitment to evidence and scale.

“The students had a particularly challenging project this year, because although Evidence Action has an office in D.C., the work they are doing is halfway around the world,” said Michael O’Leary, teaching professor of management who taught the FYS course Who Are You? Individual Differences and Workplace Performance.

The undergraduate students were divided into nine seminars, and each section comprised teams of four or five who worked together over the course of the semester on the case competition. At the end of the semester, the teams presented their work to their classmates and professor, who recommended one team for the semifinal round. The nine semifinalists then presented to a panel of judges, who chose four teams to move onto the finals, which was judged by members of Evidence Action.

The strategy Lauryn Adams (B’21), Sarah Mardjuki (B’21), Alexandra Hornick (B’21), and Kevin Murray (B’21) – the winning team – recommended was rooted in data, much like the work Evidence Action performs.

“Because we were working with a company that uses evidence to back up everything they do, we needed evidence to back up everything we did,” Hornick explained. The group noticed that millennials were donating to charities more in recent years and chose to focus their target on that demographic. From there, they agreed that the best way to reach the target audience was through social media, a website redesign, and online media kits, such as printable flyers to be posted on campuses.

Monija Amani, senior assistant dean in the Undergraduate Program Office, was thoroughly impressed with all of the presentations, describing the level of analysis and detail. For many, she explained, this was their first time presenting to an audience, experiencing this kind of challenge, and working in groups.

Adams agreed that the group work was a new experience for her. “Our strengths and weaknesses fit pretty well, and since the focus of our seminar was individual differences, it was interesting to see how that came together,” she added.

Other groups’ strategies included partnering with other organizations to increase marketing, co-sponsoring events like marathons, and following the Livestrong bracelet model. Students were graded on how well they understood the problem, their financial and marketing analysis, strategic concepts, and overall quality of presentation.

“I think the reason we stood out was our structure,” said Mardjuki. “Initially, we had three distinct paths: social media, website redesign, and media kits. During the last week and a half, we crystallized those three things into a structure that made it sound like a story: First we inspire, then lead them to the website to see the statistics, and finally, allow them to spread the word for us.”