Nonprofits hone skills, impact

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. – N.C. State University expects this fall to offer a graduate certificate in nonprofit management.

“We see a need in the nonprofit sector for professionals skilled in modern management techniques and fiscal and program accountability,” says Liz O’Sullivan, director of the public administration program at N.C. State.

The certificate program would be part of a larger nonprofit initiative that eventually could include research, an undergraduate minor and clinics and workshops similar to those offered by the school’s industrial extension service.

The school also is talking about working more closely with the certificate program in nonprofit management offered by Duke University, and with the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, O’Sullivan says.

N.C. State joins a growing group of programs and services that have sprouted in the past 15 years to help nonprofits better run their operations.

Triggered in part by cuts in federal funding for social services, nonprofits in the 1980s looked for ways to strengthen their operations, says Naomi Wish, director of the Center for Public Service at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.

That demand, plus a desire by foundations and donors to improve technical support for nonprofits, fueled an explosion in nonprofit-management courses, says Wish.

More than 240 schools now offer nonprofit studies, including nearly 100 offering three or more graduate courses – up from 17 in 1990, according to a Seton Hall study.

The increase in nonprofit studies also has generated new research on topics ranging from volunteer behavior to nonprofits’ economic impact, Wish says.

Growing demand also led to a growing supply of services ranging from professional certification and technical support to consulting and tools to address needs such as strategic planning, budget and program development, fundraising, evaluation, benchmarking and technology.

Being more professional has helped nonprofits take on “more complex challenges in a more complex landscape,” says Jan Masaoka, executive director of CompassPoint, a nonprofit consulting firm in San Francisco and San Jose.

But nonprofits also have embraced good management “out of context,” she says, cutting themselves off from their volunteer roots and social mission, and producing “blander and blander” leaders.

“We don’t want to be only a better managed sector,” she says. “We want to be a sector that has a bigger impact on democracy and economic and social justice. One way to get there is good management.”

O’Sullivan of N.C. State, which already offers a nonprofit specialty as part of its master’s program in public administration, says the school’s new nonprofit initiative aims to “add flexibility to the opportunities for people interested in the nonprofit sector.”

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