Form 1023 to be submitted this week!!

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


It’s 2:59am CT on Monday, December 10.

As of 12:15am, I finished our Form 1023 (the application to become a 501c3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization) and all attachments!! I celebrated by eating Portillo’s chocolate cake.

The draft is now off for review and should be ready for submission by the end of this week. Stay tuned!

Still awake thanks to the two cortados I had today, but fading fast. Good night #firstgenfriends.


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Writing to Change the World with The OpEd Project

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


Today I participated in a day-long seminar by The OpEd Project - Write to Change the World.

The OpEd Project aims to increase the diversity of voices and ideas represented by training people to write effective op-eds that get published, particularly women and people from underrepresented backgrounds.

Currently 80-90% of key commentary forums - op-eds, experts on TV political talk shows, producers, and more - are led by men. The OpEd Project envisions a world where the best ideas - regardless of where they come from - should have a chance to be heard and to shape society and change the world.

What is an op-ed?
Tbh, I really didn’t know much about op-eds going into this workshop. Now I know it’s a piece of commentary by an individual author unaffiliated with the paper that presents an opinion and stands opposite of the editorial page.

Why write an op-ed?
That’s what I was wondering, too. Especially in getting Propeller Collective off the ground, do I really have time to devote to something like this? YES. It’s all about the audience you’re able to reach through your piece. Decision-makers, policy-makers, philanthropists, donors, students, publishers, conferences, and more. By advancing my opinion and myself, I create more opportunities to change the world.

How to write an op-ed?
We discussed key op-ed elements like credibility, persuasion, being right vs. being effective, being intentional about our bigger picture, and how to think of our op-eds in terms of “How might I be of service to others?” We also worked through an outline of how to effectively structure an op-ed:

Lede catch attention with a news hook
Thesis why are you here?
Argument evidence 1, evidence 2, evidence 3
“To be sure” paragraph to allay your haters
Conclusion where you circle back to your lede and bring it home

The argument I worked on for the day:

We must honor the past of
first generation and low-income college students,
not just celebrate their future.

Personal learnings
Two things really stood out to me throughout the day:

  1. Shiny baubles - Dropping the “H” bomb (i.e. Harvard) where appropriate is OKAY :D It’s important to think of these as “What will it allow me to accomplish of value?” vs. “How will it make me look?”

  2. “I” vs. “We” - In founding Propeller Collective, I often refer to the organization and I as “we” when talking about our work. However, I now understand it’s important for me to be intentional about this and give credit where credit is due. For example, in my op-ed, I have something to say about this, not the organization. In my day-to-day work, I am assembling a team, not the organization.

Next steps
All attendees have access to mentor-editors for up to the next 3 months to refine and submit an op-ed. That’s enough incentive for me to get moving on this. I’ll reach out to request a mentor-editor next week.

I’ll let you know if my piece gets published!!

Thank you to India Peek-Jensen for sharing this opportunity with me, The OpEd Project for providing scholarships, program facilitators, and fellow participants for this fantastic growth experience.

Interested? The OpEd Project offers 1-day seminars across the US, and full and partial scholarships are available. Learn more here!


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Fundraising for Impact

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


National Philanthropy Day was Thursday, November 15. I attended the AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) West Michigan’s luncheon which honored local awardees and featured a keynote address by Dan Pallotta.

As I’m growing in the area of fundraising - both personally and professionally - I was super excited to meet people who work in fundraising and development and to hear Dan speak after watching his TED talks “The way we think about charity is dead wrong” and “The dream we haven’t dared to dream.”

My main takeaways from the event -

Fundraising is the most important thing for our impact!
Said another way, our impact is directly tied to how much money we raise!! I now realize that my fear of asking individuals for money pales in comparison to the impact we’re called to make as an organization. Asking I will go.

Nonprofit fundraising culture is adverse to risk.
However, risk-taking will solve our largest social problems! The answers don’t exist yet. We knew getting funding for early-stage social impact work would be next to impossible - it’s largely why we decided to self-fund Propeller Collective’s infancy - but hearing it out loud in this setting made me realize just how much early-stage funding is needed to make big change in the world. As Dan said, “Innovation and failure go hand in hand.” We have to try new things and get it wrong before we’re able to get it right.

Low overhead is not the holy grail everyone thinks it is.
Administrative and fundraising costs are necessary and okay to spend money on. And, new organizations tend to have much higher overhead compared to a mature organization because they’re just getting started implementing their programs and services.

Shoutout to my tablemates!
From the Cherry Health Foundation, Reformed Church, and Christian Reformed Church. Talking with them about “making the ask” and seeing just how comfortable they are in asking individuals for donations (like it’s a normal, everyday thing!) eased a lot of my anxiety about fundraising, because it is a normal, everyday thing. I’m excited to follow up with them to learn more from their experience in fundraising and development.

We can change the world.
You can, too.

People yearn to do the most they can do to help, but they have to be asked. - Dan Pallotta


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Documenting Two Years of Progress

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


While I’m documenting our journey on this new “Updates” blog from here on out, I want to take a moment to acknowledge highlights from everything we’ve accomplished and learned thus far. Our history is just as important as our future, even more so in these early years as an emerging nonprofit organization that is working to create a solution to a problem that doesn’t yet have one.

Sharing a high-level overview of our incredible journey thus far, organized by academic year because #collegelife is how we orient ourselves, too -

2016-17: Preparation

  • Oct 2016

    • I left my full-time job to pursue my calling to empower first generation and limited-income college students (more on this in a future post).

  • Jan - Aug 2017

    • I prepared. I built the website myself, learned functional html and css; conducted research on running a pilot program, online content, and program evaluation; and designed our first pilot program for the 2017-18 academic year.

    • Anitta Machanickal was our first summer intern! A #firstgen sophomore at Davidson College and Schuler Scholar, she delved into online content and the Chicago funding scene. She also happened to live around the block from me in the Chicago suburbs, so we pretty much lived at our local Panera that summer. Anitta loves their iced green tea.


2017-18: Pilot Year 1

  • Sept 2017

    • We began our first pilot at the University of Michigan! We chose U of M because my cofounder and I are Michigan alums, we already knew the school and campus well, and we love Michigan (Go Blue!).

    • Pilot Year 1 focus: technology, targeted online content, online community, and monthly in-person meetups.

    • Kate Wilhelmi was an instrumental part of our team during the fall semester in making sure we get off the ground. A recent grad from the U of M School of Ed and employee of the School of Public Health, Kate’s passion for being a positive force in the world lit up our pilot.

  • Oct 2017

    • We met our first cohort of students! We didn’t take many pictures that semester, but here’s a photo from our first meetup - Yoga or Walk in the Arb (if you look closely, all six of our founding student org chapter leaders are here!) -

  • Dec 2017

    • We quickly learned our students favorite thing about the program: THE QUALITATIVE INTERVIEWS!! For those of you not in research, there are two primary ways to evaluate an educational program and students’ progress - quantitative data (numbers, typically derived from surveys, ex: GPA) and qualitative data (words, typically derived from in person or phone meetings, ex: thoughts and feelings). We were surprised at the time, but looking back it makes total sense. We met students for coffee at the Espresso Royale Cafe on State Street and asked about how they were doing, how their families were doing, and where they needed help. We showed care and concern. One student remarked, “I just need and really like having someone to talk to.”

    • Question: We knew we were on to something, but what would it look like?

  • Mar 2018

    • Answer: Community & Student Leadership. In talking with students that year and reflecting on our own #firstgen college experiences, we realized the most important challenge we needed to target through our work is students’ sense of feeling alone. Many first generation and limited-income students do not feel like they belong on campus (where middle-class norms dominate) and, at the same time, they no longer feel like they fit in back home. We recognized the need to create a space where students could be themselves as they embark on their educational journeys together and establish much-needed supportive relationships with their peers.

    • I read The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging by Charles Vogl and everything clicked. Vogl defines community as, “a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another's welfare.” It’s a place where members don’t have to explain themselves and have an opportunity to experience personal growth. And, it’s exactly what our students need to feel a sense a belonging and supported as they become who they aspire to be. We also understood that our students have the capacity to create a space like this for their peers.

  • Mar - Apr 2018

    • I researched national student organizations to learn about best practices, and did a deep dive into Lean In Campus Chapters. [NOTE: The Lean In Community LIVES THEIR MISSION. From their central office to the chapter level, everyone I reached out to was welcoming, eager to support our efforts, offered valuable insight, and said please come back with questions (and they meant it). As a female leader, I felt the love of women supporting women. Thank you to Raena Saddler Schellinger and Nicole Roman (Lean In | Sandberg & Goldberg Family Foundation), Mirta Stantic (Harvard Chapter), Lily Peng (Boston University Chapter), and Serina Chang and Kara Schechtman (Columbia University Chapter), for going out of your way to support our research on campus student organizations, which informed the development of our very first chapter.]

  • April 2018

    • Six of our participants from Pilot Year 1 sign up to become founding members of our first chapter!

  • May - July 2018

    • Our student leaders and I worked throughout the summer to prepare for our first year as a student org. We met every Saturday for 90 minutes over Google Hangouts and in person in Ann Arbor monthly. We established our community values, wrote the organization constitution, established leadership roles, researched student organization practices specific to the University of Michigan, and planned out activities for the upcoming fall semester. We also made sure to have fun at our in person meetings! We went to a capoeira class and the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

  • July 2018

    • I participated in the Byron Fellowship, a week-long learning experience for emerging leaders in Asheville, North Carolina. Some of the most important takeaways for me: differentiating between the world you want to create vs. reacting to the world as it currently exists, aligning your "ways of being" with your vision, taking on unresolved conflicts, and taming your inner critic.


2018-19: Pilot Year 2

  • Sept 2018

    • The beginning of our first year as a student organization at the University of Michigan! Meet our student leaders and see what they’re up to on our chapter website and on the student organization directory. On campus, they’re participating in the OptiMize Social Innovation Challenge, which provides workshops, mentorship, and resources to support the launch of the student organization at U of M.

    • Pilot Year 2 focus: Community; belonging and becoming.

  • Oct 2018

    • Inaugural First Generation Alumni Advisory Board meets for the first time! They meet monthly to help us work out current challenges, such as recruitment, communication, program design, social media, and more.

    • I received a scholarship for the Emerging Nonprofit Certificate of Training led by the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. Workshops were tailored to new nonprofit organizations and included: Funding, Nonprofit Board Basics, Developing a Budget, Business Planning, and Legal Steps to Create a 501(c)(3). Thank you CLCCRUL and Erica Spangler Raz for facilitating such a valuable learning experience!!


What’s next: Stay tuned!

(P.S. We’ve met many special people and experiences throughout our journey over the past two years that aren’t covered here. Saving a few stories for next time :D)


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HBS Club of Chicago Nonprofit Board Panel

by Kori Crockett Cofounder / CEO


This past week, I attended an event hosted by the HBS Club of Chicago on nonprofit board membership. Six leaders of Chicago-based NPOs shared the inner workings of their respective board of directors. Orgs represented: Chicago Children’s Choir, i.c.stars, Center on Halsted, Chicago Philharmonic, Chicago Children’s Museum, and Friends of the Forest Preserve.

While the event was intended for people interested in joining a nonprofit board and NPO leaders looking for new recruits, it was an AMAZING opportunity to learn about the inner workings of nonprofit boards as we prepare to grow our own board in the coming months.

Key takeaways for Propeller Collective:

  • Q: Who should we have on our first board of directors?

    • A: a lawyer, an accountant, and someone you love.

  • Q: How to recruit and decide on board members?

    • Passion is the most important thing.

    • Then align with strategic priorities.

    • Ensure representation from your served-population.

  • General tips

    • #1 - Be intentional! Board members want to know what to expect and what’s expected of them in their roles.

    • Every NPO has a finance committee.

    • Start board members with a 1-year commitment before they commit to a 2- or 3-year term. This gives each party a chance to try things out before making a longer commitment.

    • Give-get (where board members are expected to bring a certain dollar amount to the organization) is important for sustainability and can be done through personal donation or fundraising.

    • Effective boards know and like each other. Ensure opportunities to network. Enact rituals.

    • A suggested board norm: “It’s okay to disagree, but it’s not okay to be disagreeable.”

    • No surprises! Do NOT wait until a board meeting to share pertinent info.

We also ran into our friends Karl Androes, founder and ED of Reading in Motion, and Steve Wasko, a fellow U Michigan + Harvard alum (we love Crimson, but when it comes down to it, Go Blue!). Thanks to Ben Bornstein for helping us secure a discounted ticket.

And thanks to HBSCC for putting on such an informative event!

npo board.png

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