Entrepreneurship class partners with Audio-Reader to address budget cuts
Students in the School of Business’ Social Entrepreneurship class are used to helping nonprofits overcome obstacles, but this spring they were faced with perhaps their toughest challenge yet: finding alternative sources of revenue for Audio-Reader in the face of budget cuts.
The organization, a reading and information service for blind, visually impaired and print-disabled individuals in Kansas and western Missouri, is losing approximately $330,000 in annual funding from the University of Kansas as its support sunsets over the next few years. Audio-Reader development director Beth McKenzie reached out to the course’s instructor, lecturer and entrepreneurship program associate director Charlotte Tritch, about partnering on a semesterlong project for the class, which tasks Business Jayhawks with addressing nonprofit business challenges and presenting solutions.
Although all students don’t usually work with the same organization in her class, Tritch decided to make an exception, hoping more students working on the problem would lead to more workable solutions for Audio-Reader. It paid off.
“All four teams approached it really differently, which is interesting because they all had the same assignment, access to the same initial research, and we worked with the same client contact,” she said.
Hannah Burdick, a spring 2019 graduate who worked on the project, said Audio-Reader’s difficult situation motivated students.
“The huge cut in funding could not be approached with the mindset that our group, our project, was going to ‘solve’ the problem,” Burdick explained. “We all wanted the Audio-Reader team to actually be able to put our suggestions into fruition, and if the idea wasn’t worth their time or effort, we wanted them to know.”
The groups’ ideas included:
- Finding additional sources of grant funding by interviewing similar organizations in Colorado and Texas;
- Starting a social enterprise where people could resell high-end glasses or sunglasses online, with a portion of the profits going back to Audio-Reader;
- Hosting the existing Audio-Reader Golf Classic fundraiser outside of Lawrence by working with college golf teams in other Kansas cities;
- Partnering with Kansas organizations that offer similar services to make better use of funding and resources.
McKenzie said she found the suggestions groups presented at the end of the spring semester creative and inventive. Audio-Reader is already working to partner with similar organizations based on the students’ recommendations.
Collaborating with the class also illuminated the fact many KU students don’t know about Audio-Reader and its mission, she added.
“Talking to the students about what we do and how things are done is just very helpful for us because that’s what we need — to get more varied input, more varied support and donors and volunteers,” McKenzie said.
Beyond introducing Burdick to a new organization, the course provided a lesson in doing business with care.
“Money cannot buy the experiences you get or the skills you gain when you work with nonprofits,” she said. “Not to mention the personal benefit of feeling good about the work you put into something that is doing good. While I might not provide an execution plan for funding to a nonprofit again in my future, I do anticipate contributing more of my time to a nonprofit that I am passionate about.”