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Sunday, 20 July 2014 19:10

Higher education responds to nonprofit leadership needs

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Grand Valley State University Grand Valley State University COURTESY PHOTO

As nonprofits demand more sophistication from their executives, that’s giving rise to another sector: educating nonprofit leaders.

This fall, Grand Valley State University is set to introduce its master of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership program. The program is a response to the need for more nonprofit leaders in the field, which currently employs 10 percent of Kent County’s workforce, according to GVSU.

“I think our community has some great leaders that thrive in our generously philanthropic community,” said Salvatore Alaimo, assistant professor in the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration at GVSU. “Our program is one example of an effort to provide an educational experience that will help them and the next generation meet what seem to be constantly changing demands from society.”

GVSU’s master of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership degree program is five years in the making and begins in the fall semester this year. The degree requires 36 hours of coursework, and applicants need at least three years of experience in the nonprofit field. Part of the coursework is giving the students a hands-on experience so they are able to apply it to their nonprofits.

“We do experiential learning where students do projects in the community,” said Heather Carpenter, assistant professor in the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration at GVSU. “And because this degree is geared toward working professionals and they have to have three years working experience, they value it because they can have a project that brings value to their organization.”

According to Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of practice in public affairs and philanthropy at Indiana University, providing hands-on experience within the curriculum is key to churning out nonprofit leaders.

“The major problem nonprofits face is being able to identify talented people in the sector,” he said. “We’re developing opportunities for students to grow their skills. We do a lot of project-based work here.”

GVSU and Indiana University are both part of the Arizona Indiana Michigan Alliance (AIM) that represents some of the top centers for philanthropy and nonprofits in the nation. The alliance is a strategic collaboration of the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at GVSU. The goal for these centers is to develop effective leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors through education.

The schools are also members of the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC), which is a group that is devoted to the promotion and networking of centers that provide research and education in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

While Grand Valley State University’s program is set to launch, Lawrence Technological University in Southeast Michigan recently shut down its center for nonprofit management after nearly a decade of operations.

But Lawrence Tech’s story may be the exception and not the rule, according to sources.

“There’s been a huge demand for these programs across the country and I’ve seen them thrive everywhere else, so that’s a strange case,” Carpenter said of Lawrence Tech’s decision.

Carpenter and Alaimo hope to expand the GVSU program by creating an applied doctorate degree in philanthropy in the next few years. Carpenter was recently approved by the university to develop a proposal for the Ph.D. program after she surveyed 800 nonprofit professionals from across the country.

“It was a resounding, ‘Yes, there is a need for this degree,’” she said. “This is what our students wanted for a long time and the nonprofit community has said, ‘We appreciate the coursework that you already provided, but we want more.’”

The demand for nonprofit programs is growing at other area universities as well. Western Michigan University introduced undergraduate and graduate programs for nonprofit leadership 13 years ago. Since then, the programs have grown from 12 students in the introductory classes to the current average of 35 students.

“When my students came in 13 years ago, they didn’t realize there were paying jobs in nonprofit organizations,” said Janice Maatman, director of nonprofit education programs at WMU. “They, and their parents, thought they were going to be volunteering, which is far from the case. So I think there’s a growing appreciation to make a good living in a nonprofit organization, and also doing good in your community. Students are attracted to doing both those things.”

Currently, WMU is working on revising its nonprofit courses over the next year to make sure they include the appropriate technology and put a heavier focus on collaboration.

“Collectective impact strategies are becoming more important as communities work together to make changes,” Maatman said. “So students need to know how to do that collaboration between government and business and nonprofit.”

Likewise, faculty at Indiana University are working on bettering its nonprofit program. The biggest project in the works is an international nonprofit program with universities in China. The program has been in the works for the past two years and Lenkowsky is hoping for it to be up and going in time for the 2015/2016 school year.

“We’re opening up ideas for nonprofit work students otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said.

Read 4975 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 10:38

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