Students offer free consulting for nonprofits

Sid Patel
Sid Patel

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — About a year ago, four students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University were thinking out loud about the limited opportunities for students to get internships at big consulting firms that would give them the kind of high-yield projects they would need to land good permanent jobs.

Their solution was to form their own nonprofit consulting firm, and to target the nonprofit market, one they believe needs consulting services and provides an opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

“We thought we could combine these two needs to make a solution where students can get experience from real-life consulting doing something they can use, and nonprofits can get cheap solutions to their problems,” says Sid Patel, a co-founder of Micro-Consulting for North Carolina, or MCforNC.

In its first year, the firm signed up roughly two-dozen students and completed 13 projects for 12 nonprofits.

Student consultants, who apply online and then are assessed based on their interests, expertise and class schedules, work 10 hours a week on average, with teams of two to three consultants typically working for a nonprofit client.

Consultants who show substantial leadership qualities after working on several projects typically become project managers on their third project, says Patel, who graduated this year with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and now is working in a research lab at the School of Medicine at UNC.

The firm does not charge a consultant fee but does charge a one-time administrative fee of $50.

MCforNC focuses on handling short-term technical or administrative projects, helping to put solutions into place, and teaching nonprofits the technical skills needed to sustain their operations.

The topics on which the firm offers its expertise include grant research, web design, information technology, database and data modeling, accounting and financial analysis.

The firm, for example, developed a web site for Triangle Cares, helped develop a marketing plan for Genesis Home and provided advice on a grants database for El Centro Hispano, all in Durham.

Its biggest client has been DurhamCares, a group that provides local nonprofits with assistance on marketing, fundraising and finding volunteers.

DurhamCares asked MCforNC to customize a customer-relationship-management database so that volunteers in remote locations can use the web-based software to match local nonprofits with local volunteers.

“They did a great job of translating my needs into the customization of the database, and peeling back questions I had,” says Heather Jones, executive director of DurhamCares. “It ultimately will allow me to bring people into my organization who can do matching on a volunteer basis from anywhere because they have a web-based CRM tool that really works.”

The partnership with MCforNC, she says, epitomizes the goals of DurhamCares, both by allowing it to model the use of “high-capacity” volunteers it encourages nonprofits to use, and by providing work for college students “hungry to connect what they’re learning in the classroom with the impact they can make on society.”

Patel says MCforNC will be recruiting student consultants for the coming year at UNC, N.C. State University and Duke University, and plans to take on five to six consulting projects in the fall semester.

Late August is the deadline for nonprofits to submit requests for consulting assistance at

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