“What’s the Big Idea?” Award

University of Northern Iowa: The 2018 “What’s the Big Idea?” Award Recipient! 

The 2018 “What’s the Big Idea?” Award at the Alliance Management Institute recognized a group of Alliance campus students who have created an innovative solution to address a major challenge facing the nonprofit sector. The issue for 2018 is diversity, equity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector. “Big Ideas” were presented in a TED-style fashion at the Alliance Management Institute that was held January 3-5, 2018, at the KC Marriott Downtown.

Table of Contents

  1. Objectives
  2. Participation Steps
  3. Competition Requirements 
  4. Intent to Participate Application 
  5. Big Idea Proposal
  6. Finalist Selection
  7. Instructions for Finalists
  8. 2018 Issue Description 
  9. Strategies
  10. Needs Assessment
  11. Important Dates


  • Build the capacity of nonprofit leaders to think beyond the current practices and ideas to generate innovative solutions to society’s most pressing issues.
  • Provide students with an opportunity to develop systems-thinking, creative problem-solving, project management, team-building, leadership and persuasion skills.
  • Create a platform that advocates for Big Ideas that are both implementable and replicable and will be shared broadly with social change agents and organizations.

How to Participate:  Work with a team of Alliance students from your campus to develop an innovative solution around the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector.  Please see details about this topic below in the “What’s The Big Idea?”– 2018 Issue Description.

Participation Steps

  1. Read competition requirements
  2. Read “What’s The Big Idea?”– 2018 Issue Description
  3. Recruit a team of Alliance students from your campus
  4. Submit Intent to Participate application by October 23rd, 2017
  5. Submit Big Idea proposal by November 30, 2017

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Competition Requirements

  • Only students from Alliance campus partners may participate
  • Students must be registered for AMI 2018
  • Graduate and undergraduate students are eligible

Intent to Participate Application

Teams will submit an “Intent to Participate” application by October 23, 2017.  The application requests:

  1. Working title of presentation;
  2. Campus;
  3. Primary contact name; and
  4. Names of additional team members.

Click here to Apply (application is closed)

Big Idea Proposal

The full proposal is due by November 30, 2017.  The Big Idea proposal must include

  1. Problem statement;
  2. Planned outcomes/impact;
  3. 2-3 measurable objectives;
  4. Detailed description of Big Idea (solution) and implementation; and
  5. Resources needed for implementation.

Finalist Selection

A selection committee, made up of corporate community members, Alliance Workforce Partners, campus representatives and CNPs will review all proposals and select three finalists. The finalists will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • Well-defined Big Idea (solution) and implementation strategy;
  • Clear relationship between the Big Idea and the identified problem;
  • Appropriate outcomes and objectives given scope of the Big Idea;
  • Realistic resources identified to launch/implement the Big Idea; and
  • Replicable strategy.

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Instructions for Finalists

All finalists will receive an exclusive “What’s the Big Idea?” t-shirt and an assortment of Alliance bling. In addition, the winning team will receive a $500 cash gift that can be used for any campus purpose (activities, AMI scholarships, etc.). Big Ideas will be highlighted on the Alliance website, including the video about the winning Big Idea.

Finalists will present their Big Ideas during the AMI 2018 opening plenary, January 3, 2018.

  • Presentations will be no longer than 5-7 minutes (TED talk style).
  • PowerPoint will be no more than 7 slides (including title slide).
  • A panel of judges will ask one follow-up question.
  • Students will have one minute to answer question.
  • Presentations will be recorded.
  • The winner will be announced during the closing awards ceremony at AMI on January 5, 2018.

“What’s The Big Idea?”– 2018 Issue Description

Made up of people who have dedicated their careers to helping others, the nonprofit sector is often thought of as the “friendly” sector. A segment of the economy dedicated to doing good. However, recent studies call into question the nonprofit sector’s commitment to equity. Shifts in the general population underscore the need for nonprofit organizations to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Nevertheless, the makeup of the nonprofit sector does not appear to reflect these changes. This gulf between our practices and our stated values has left many nonprofit leaders questioning what needs to change in order for us to lead versus trail in this critical social justice area.

For the 2018 Big Idea Award, we are asking student groups to propose solutions (Big Ideas) that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion – specifically as it relates to the nonprofit sector.


Many strategies could assist the nonprofit sector in moving the needle when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. As you select your strategy, keep in mind that a stated objective is to create a Big Idea that is both implementable and replicable. Select one of the following strategies or develop your own.

  • Technology and/or new media
  • Advocacy
  • Nonprofit workforce development
  • Marketing/communications
  • Nonprofit organization culture (including pertinent policies/procedures/operations)
  • Other (select a different strategy from the ones listed above)

Needs Assessment

The following resources will get you started. Select one or more of the following areas to focus your Big Idea.

  • While 64% of the country is white, according to the US Census, 89% of CEOs and 80% of board members participating in BoardSource’s national survey (as reported in Leading with Intent) are white. Those data also demonstrate that the larger the nonprofit organization, the more likely the board chair is to be white, over 40 years old, and male.
  • National data also show that a glass ceiling still exists for women leaders of nonprofits, as well as a significant gender pay gap.
  • A common finding is that the nonprofit workplace is not keeping up with demographic shifts in the general population (click here). While the overall U.S. workforce is 30% persons of color, those employed by the nonprofit sector are only 18% persons of color.
  • Building Movement Project’s just-released leadership report, Race to Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap, shows that the nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap. As the U.S. becomes increasingly diverse, the percentage of people of color in executive director/CEO roles has remained under 20 percent for the last 15 years.
  • Although many would agree that racism and prejudice are wrong, implicit bias does exist and is found in the workplace, on campuses and in our communities.
  • The Building Movement Project’s report Working at the Intersections: LGBTQ Nonprofit Staff and the Racial Leadership Gap, found significant anti-LGBTQ bias in the nonprofit sector. In fact, many states allow discrimination against LGBTQ people, so it’s legal for many nonprofits to openly discriminate this way.
  • Treating everyone exactly the same actually is not fair. What equal treatment does do is erase our differences and promote privilege. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Read more.
  • Comprising more than 19 percent of the people living in the United States, people with disabilities live below the poverty line at twice the rate of those without disabilities: 20% vs. 10%. Compared to those without disabilities, individuals with disabilities are about half as likely to have a college degree or to be in the workforce. Once they do enter the workforce, they experience a significant earnings gap. By neglecting to make changes to their normal way of doing business, businesses and nonprofits have placed barriers — even though they’re not visible “architectural barriers”— in the way of people with disabilities.Learn more.

Important Dates

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