Book Post #1: Nonprofit Education 101

Lately, I have been reading and researching about nonprofit academic programs for the book (aka Fundraising Across Generations) from undergrad to certificates to masters degree.

Did you know that today there are over 292 colleges that offer courses focused on the management of nonprofit organizations and 168 of these programs offer a graduate degree with a concentration (three or more courses) in the management of nonprofit organizations?  Yep, that is a lot and it is a huge increase from the only 17 universities that offered a graduate concentration (three or more courses) in the management of nonprofit organizations in 1990. Thanks to the research of Roseanne Mirabella and Naomi Wish — two kick-butt gals who research nonprofit masters programs.

Another gal who is doing great work in this area is Heather Carpenter who graciously shared her research, insight and resources to get me on the right track about understanding the nonprofit masters playing field.

In the last twenty years these programs have grown dramatically speaking to the demand for academic education for those working in the nonprofit world.  If the for-profit world has MBAs, the nonprofit world needs its equivalent.

Personally, I have found the nonprofit-infused academic world invaluable in furthering my career. In 2003, I accepted the position of Director of Development.  I was the sole development officer at the organization and tasked with conducting special events, engaging alumni, operating the annual fund, developing planned giving opportunities and conducting a $4.5M Capital Campaign to build a new campus.  With experience only in special events, I was a fish out of water!

I knew I needed to supplement my hands-on experience with classroom learning so I started taking fundraising classes through University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Extension and completed my Certificate in Fundraising and Development in 2004. Another research fact, did you know There are 91 programs that offer noncredit courses such as Fundraising, Managing Your Nonprofit Organization, and Governance? Yep, stats thanks to Mirabella and Wish’s research.

The UCSD Extension program has hosted a Fundraising and Development certificate since winter 1999. So far, 300 students have participated in the program, 239 have enrolled in the certificate program and taken classes, 50 students are in the process of completing the program and 65 students have completed the certificate program (me being one of them!). The university’s offering of a certificate program also acknowledges that fundraising is a real skill set and that there is a need for education of best practices. I think it has helped raise the bar for industry standards and establishing the fundraising profession.

In 2002, the University of San Diego started a Masters program in Nonprofit Leadership and Management and I happily joined the third cohort in 2004.  Nonprofit academic education teaches nonprofit best practices and inspires students to implement them in their organizations with the goal of bettering the systems and effectiveness of the nonprofit in meeting its mission.  The education also provides career advancement for nonprofit professionals.

I think the increase in masters programs like the one at USD is two-fold.  The growth of the academic programs focused on nonprofit courses can be seen in direct correlation to the growth in nonprofit organizations. There has been a dramatic increase in nonprofits over the last 40 years, totaling 1.5M nonprofits in the US. More nonprofits, means a larger need for educating those who operate these organizations. And, the younger generations are looking to gain degrees and certificates with a nonprofit focus, therefore, there are more and more university offerings. At the University of San Diego Masters in Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, the mean student age has dropped from 41 years old in 2002 to 35 years old in 2010.

I spoke to Professor Richard Male at Regis University and he commented that

“Nonprofit professionals need to learn how to run a nonprofit business. They need to learn about legal, human resources, fundraising tactics, finance and board development.  This is fulfilled through a masters program and is hugely beneficial to a field that is just starting to get under way.  In contrast, to the for-profit world that has recognized generations of leaders.”

The more I research about nonprofit masters programs, the more I am so grateful that I was able to be part of the USD program.  I had the pleasure of sitting down with Pat Libby, the Program Director, for the USD masters program last week.  I asked her why she thought it was valuable for fundraisers (because we are writing the book about fundraisers!) to get their masters in nonprofit management.  She responded that the program doesn’t just offer fundraising classes where students learn the basics of annual fund, foundations, special events, corporate sponsors, and individual donors — the program teaches students the infrastructure of how a nonprofit operates.  Students also explore (hands-on) different types, sectors, sizes and causes of nonprofits – gaining an understanding of how organizations operate from. Through the finance class, students gain an understanding of how to put together a budget – important for writing grants and creating your development budget.  In the research and design class, students learn how to put together a strong program (utilizing research) that will meet the organization’s mission and will attract funding.  An important element of the masters program, is that the classes are taught by practioners who bring the real world of fundraising into the classroom.  You can’t learn fundraising by looking at theoretical models. Guest speakers from family foundation and corporations come to speak to the students about attracting funding.  Class projects allow you learn fundraising by doing and working with a specific nonprofit hands-on. Fundraising is as much an art as it is a science.

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One thought on “Book Post #1: Nonprofit Education 101

  1. It’s so great of you to recognize the important of Nonprofit-focused graduate degree programs! There’s one slight correction I’d like to make of your description of USD’s MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management program which is that yes, the faculty are all practitioners, however, we consider ourselves “pracademics” in that we cross both the academic and practitioner sides of the isle. For example, Dr. Laura Deitrick, teaches Organizational Theory and Research course for us and has experience as a NP executive director in addition to holding her PhD. The same can be said of Dr. Mary McDonald, Dr. Patti Sarinero, Dr. Robert Donmoyer and others teaching in our program. The theorical aspects of leaership and management dovetail with the practical application.

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