Emerging Community Leaders

ECLs at Walk as One event

Thinking about joining ECL in 2020? Click here to join our Interest List!


Emerging Community Leaders (ECL) is a personal development program designed for young professionals to learn how they can impact our community through nonprofit volunteerism. 

We're looking for people from all backgrounds and workplaces who are passionate about improving Champaign County.

Over the past 15 years, nearly 600 people have graduated from ECL!

The 2019 ECL Program is offered free of charge thanks to our sponsor, Barham Benefit Group, and the support of the United Way Board of Directors.


ECL’s structured like a class – but with no grades or tests!

In the spring, you’ll join 30-40 fellow young professionals (age 21-40ish) for our four educational seminars:

  • Nonprofits 101
  • Board Membership Basics
  • Our Community’s Challenges - The Poverty Simulation
  • The Volunteer’s Role in Fundraising

Over the summer, you will put your new knowledge to work by participating in a team project that addresses a community challenge identified by United Way.

We will also plan social and volunteerism events throughout the year. And at the conclusion of our program, we'll celebrate your accomplishments with a Graduation event. Fun!


ECL graduates have the skillset necessary to become an effective nonprofit volunteer, committee member or board member. Plus, you’ll have made new friends with your fellow ECL members.

Want to get nerdy? Download our ECL Learning Outcomes.



Our program will run from March through October of 2020. We have one two-hour event a month, and you should plan to spend additional time on your Team Project. We’re looking for commitment, so we do have minimum attendance requirements. We plan optional volunteer and social events too. Check out the 2020 calendar and attendance requirements - available in December.



We’ll open applications on January 2, 2020, at noon-ish. APPLY EARLY - registration will close when we reach capacity (55 participants!). Click here to join our Interest List!

If you're a plan-ahead kind of person, we do require one Letter of Recommendation with the application - now would be a great time to make that ask. It can be from a personal or professional source.


What’s the age range?

21-40ish. The average participant age is 32. Hey, Millenials! 👋

What’s the cost?

Free - it just costs your time.

What’s the time commitment?

We have one 2 hour event a month from March through October. You should plan to spend at least 3 hours a month from May-August working on your Team Project. There are also extra fun events planned. If you join ECL, we expect you to participate fully throughout the program, and we do have minimum attendance requirements. Our 2020 calendar will be available in December.

This is a networking program, right?

Yes and no. We put together a great group of people each year - but we hope networking is not the main reason you're joining. The focus of our program is on learning how to become a great volunteer. Networking’s a big plus, but it’s not the main focus of our program.

Some of your events start during my workday – what’s up with that?

Yep. Our seminars start at 4 pm or 4:30 pm. This allows us to get the best community speakers - and get you back home before dinner and evening commitments. If you need to convince the boss to let you leave early to participate, we have letters of endorsement for the program from top local CEOs - just ask!

After I do ECL, will you place me on a local Board of Directors?

This is a common misconception about our program! ECL is a volunteer training program. Our events will expose you to many of our community’s leading nonprofit groups and we will be happy to talk with you about local options, but we do not provide placement services.

I’m going to be traveling or on leave during part of the program. Can I still do the program?

Maybe - connect with us before applying and let’s talk it through.

I already serve on a nonprofit board or committee. Should I do ECL?

YES, if you want to become more comfortable with your role. If you’ve been on boards for a long time, you may find our seminar content a bit basic for your existing knowledgebase.

I work for a nonprofit or am thinking about starting my own nonprofit. Is ECL a good fit for me?

If you're new to the nonprofit world, yes! For people with several years of experience in the nonprofit field, you may find the seminars a bit basic for your existing knowledgebase. Our program is definitely geared towards the nonprofit volunteer rather than staff member.

If you’re thinking about starting your own nonprofit, the Community Foundation’s Community Solutions Incubator is pretty awesome, and may be a better fit for you.

Do I need to be a United Way donor to participate?

No – but we hope by the end of the program, you’ll be more than willing to support United Way’s work!

Mission of the ECL Program:

Connect with other young professionals who want to make a difference in Champaign County

Serve in group volunteer projects and team projects

Lead the way by educating yourself on community issues and non-profit operations


For more information, please contact Mary or Salvo