Emerging Community Leaders

2020 ECL Graduates pose for group photo

2020 ECL Application period is now open!

Click here to fill out the application to join ECL in 2020.


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 2020 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 up to 55 fellow young professionals (age 21-40ish) for our four educational seminars:

  • The Nonprofit World
  • Board Membership Basics
  • Building Successful Volunteer Committees
  • Finding Your "Why"

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.

Optional events include our Poverty Simulation and Live United Bus Tour - both are great ways to deepen your knowledge of our community. 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 skill set necessary to become an effective nonprofit volunteer, committee member or board member. Plus, you’ll have made new friends with your fellow ECL members.

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.



Applications are open now through February 5, 2020, or when we reach 55 applicants.. APPLY EARLY - registration will close when we reach capacity (55 participants!). 

Click here to apply today!


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. Thank you to our sponsor, Barham Benefit Group!

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 - check out the Calendar.

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.

The events start during my workday – what’s up with that?

Yes, our seminars start at 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?

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. Seminar 4, Finding Your Why, is all about developing your own plan for your community involvement. We hope after ECL, you will be empowered to reach out on your own to the causes or or organizations you care about regarding volunteer service.

I’m going to be traveling extensively 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