Public Policy Students Work with Local Domestic Violence Agency

Betsy Schmidt
Betsy Schmidt
Cas Martin
Cas Martin

This semester, students in the School of Public Policy’s (SPP) nonprofit law and management course are using what they’re learning in class to help a local agency that supports domestic violence survivors.

The project connects students with the Holyoke-based nonprofit Womanshelter/Compañeras, which provides services and advocacy for people who’ve experienced domestic violence. In the class assignment, students were charged with developing recommendations for Womanshelter/Compañeras on how to share its story effectively to build community support and raise funds.

“Most nonprofits are too busy serving their mission to spend much time creating the tools that can help others see the progress they are making toward achieving their goals,” said professor Betsy Schmidt. “Each year this class partners with a local nonprofit that would like some help in this area. The students do a good deed for the nonprofit, while learning about the complexities of running a nonprofit and the importance of developing a strategy for achieving measurable goals.”

Early in the semester, Womanshelter/Compañeras’s executive director, Carmen Nieves, and its director of development, Pamela Barnes, visited the class to tell students more about the organization, its work and its needs. From there, the students, working in groups, developed dashboards highlighting the organization’s programs and achievements through charts and other graphics, which Womanshelter/Compañeras could use as a basis for creating its annual report.

In addition, the student groups developed recommendations for ways Womanshelter/Compañeras could strengthen its profile on GuideStar, the online service that tracks nonprofit organizations in the US. The students also developed a “logic model” — a graphic representation of the relationships among the agency’s resources, activities and outcomes — which is something that more and more funders are asking to see, Barnes said.

“We also saw this [project] as an opportunity to raise awareness of domestic violence in our area and to dispel some of the myths around who is impacted by it,” Barnes said.

Earlier this month, the students presented their work to Womanshelter/Compañeras. “The teams did great jobs on their projects,” Barnes said after the meeting. “Every dashboard, logic model and GuideStar recommendation had something insightful and useful. I'll be sharing these with Womanshelter's administrative team to spark a discussion on how we can share our goals and achievements with the public.”

Cas Martin, a student in SPP’s master of public policy and administration program, was excited by the opportunity to work with Womanshelter/Compañeras, which he described as “an amazing, decades-old stronghold for people who have experienced domestic violence in our community.”

Martin worked on a team with classmates Rachel Mann, Mina Puig and Brad Riley. The hardest part of the project, he said, was creating the dashboard, given the broad range of the organization’s services and programs. “All of their activities play a critical role for members of our community. This made it difficult to decide what information the dashboard should contain and how it should be displayed to best tell the story of Womanshelter/Compañeras,” he said.

“Thankfully, I worked in a wonderful team of four on this project. All of us had diverse nonprofit experience, ranging from small local groups to international enterprises,” Martin continued. “My colleagues and I pooled our collective knowledge and resources to produce deliverables that we’re truly proud of. It was an honor presenting them to Womanshelter/Compañeras.”

“All the students did a remarkable job with this assignment, and each group came at the project from a different angle, so they provided Womanshelter/Compañeras with several interesting possibilities,” Schmidt said. “In addition to learning about these tools for sharing a nonprofit’s progress, the students see that the concepts they are reading about each week have practical application. They can also feel proud that they have helped such an important local institution in a small way.”