UT Students Use Data to Help Local Nonprofits

December 13, 2017

UT student Jacob Tankersley has spent the fall semester using Google AdWords for Nonprofits in order to raise awareness about The Restoration House, a local nonprofit that helps single mothers and their children get back on their feet. The organization offers transitional housing, ally teams and family advocacy programs.

Tankersley is in an upper-level business analytics class called Search Engine Marketing: Paid Search Advertising Management and Optimization Strategies. The class was created by Julie Ferrara, assistant department head for business analytics and statistics in UT’s Haslam College of Business. It was one of the first courses to receive an S designation, which means it offers experiential learning based in service-learning.

Tankersley and his classmates have learned the fundamentals of creating, managing and optimizing online marketing campaigns using a set budget from their client to create Google AdWords campaigns.

Ferrara has spent her career helping organizations make data-based decisions. Now her students get to create actual campaigns and use the data they generate to make their campaigns better.

“I designed this class to ensure our students get hands-on digital marketing experience. Most undergraduate students haven’t worked with clients at this level,” she said. “I see the class as students not only learning how to create search engine marketing campaigns that help a nonprofit or only learning how to analyze search marketing data, but both."

Tankersley, of Knoxville, a senior in business analytics, said he and his classmates have gained real-world client experience while doing something that benefits the community.

“I got to create a campaign for a client, and I’m still in school,” he said. “It’s allowed me to learn how to purchase search advertising on Google, but also apply the work I’ve done outside the classroom. My teammates and I have had direct communication with our client, organized site visits, determined client needs and created a campaign to help them meet their needs.

“I’ve been fascinated with data and analytics for a long time. It’s interesting how you can find patterns and be more efficient based on numbers,” he said. “It's the most important aspect of a business — looking at your numbers and finding the most profitable path.”

Tankersley said their client challenged them to increase visibility for two needs — on-site volunteers and a spring seminar called From the Ground Up. The seminar provides best practices on how to run a nonprofit.

“There’s just not much online visibility about this seminar or their need for volunteers,” he said. “We’re trying to increase awareness through relevant search terms. If you search for Knoxville volunteer opportunities, we want our ad for the Restoration House to show up.”

By the end of the semester, the ads Tankersley and his team created had almost 5,000 impressions. This resulted in an increase of overall site traffic, which they hope will produce more involvement from the surrounding community. By developing relevant ads, the team helped the Restoration House grow their online footprint. As a result, the nonprofit now has an increased ability to reach out to people wanting to get involved.

“The data shows us the good work we’re doing and the positive impact we’re having on the nonprofit,” said Tankersley. “It’s not a fake client with simulated data. We’re working with real-world data — and when you get to the bottom of it, we’re helping this organization help the community.”



Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, tyra.haag@tennessee.edu)

Katie Williams (865-974-3589, katiewilliams@utk.edu)