Emerging Community Leaders

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2019 ECL Graduates pose for group photo


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 16 years, 600 people have graduated from ECL!

The 2021 ECL Program is offered free of charge thanks to our sponsors: Barham Benefit Group and U of I Community Credit Union.

Our next cohort will start in Spring 2022.

Join our 2022 Interest List!


About the Emerging Community Leaders Program

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

In the spring, you’ll join 50 other young professionals (age 21-40ish) for our four educational seminars:

  • Nonprofit Basics
  • How to be an effective Board/Committee member
  • Fundraising for Impact
  • Finding your best volunteer fit

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 volunteer events throughout the year. At the conclusion of our program, we'll celebrate your accomplishments with a Graduation event.


ECL graduates have the skill set necessary to become effective nonprofit volunteers, committee members, or board members. Plus, you’ll have made new friends with your fellow ECL members.


Our 2022 program will run from March through October. We have one 2 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 2021 calendar.


Applications for 2022 will open in January. Sign up for our Interest List to be the first to know when the application drops!

Join our 2022 Interest List!

Frequently Asked Questions

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

Free - it just costs your time.

We have one 2 hour event a month from March through October. You should plan to spend about 3 hours a month from May to August working on your Team Project. There are also fun extra events planned.

If you join ECL, we expect you to participate fully throughout the program, and we do have minimum attendance requirements. If you ever have any issues or questions, we want you to reach out to the ECL program staff. We can usually find a mutually agreeable solution!

The core focus of our program is on learning how to become a great volunteer.

We do love networking and include it as part of every event. We guarantee you'll meet new people.


We hold our core ECL program events from 4:30pm - 6:00pm.

There isn't one best time for everyone, but over the past 16 years, we've found the late afternoon slot allows us to get the best community speakers - and get you back home before childcare closes, dinnertime, and other evening commitments.

If you need to convince your supervisor to allow you leave time to participate in ECL, we have letters of endorsement for the program from several top local CEOs - just ask! 

As you'll learn in ECL, volunteerism is a highly personal endeavor. 

Our program will teach you how to identify the right volunteer opportunity for you and introduce you to the local nonprofit community. Our team is happy to talk with you about local options and help you continue to build your personal volunteerism plan. Additionally, we will share Board openings that are provided to us with you.

If you'll be away from the area or on leave for more than three consecutive weeks during the program

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

In 2020, we learned from experience that ECL works best in person.

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. 

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. 


But we hope by the end of the program, you’ll be more than willing to support United Way’s work!