I was in a meeting with various department heads and faculty. Leading the group was one of the most respected deans on campus, a particularly learned professor who had built the college she represented into one of the most prestigious in the entire university system. I was pitching a start-up initiative based on the idea that university students should have an opportunity to take course work while in school that prepares them to enter nonprofit organization employment with relevant practical skills and training.
The initiative would consist of at least one introductory course on nonprofit organizations, and for students who chose to make nonprofit work a career, there would be a series of advanced courses in various aspects of nonprofit organization management and administration. My interest was keyed to the environmental field, but the coursework would be designed for applicability to any kind of nonprofit organization employment.
As we spoke, I told of recent graduates of the university who were working in local nonprofit organizations who found themselves ill prepared for the jobs they now held. They had recently formed a group with the objective of asking for continuing education course work to get training they felt they should have received while in school. Another student knew about nonprofit jobs available, wanted employment, yet found no relevant course work that would provide training and skills that would set him apart from any other applicant after he graduated.
The conversation came to a rather abrupt end when the dean declared I needed to visit with faculty in the business school who teach public administration, because that was where students wanting to enter the nonprofit field needed to be going for course work.
End of story? It would be if the dean were correct. Truth is that in many critical areas, nonprofit organization management and administration are unlike that of for-profit businesses or public agencies. How money is raised—holding fundraising events—is one among many areas that sets the nonprofit sector apart from other businesses, but if I had to choose, I would say managing a nonprofit is more closely aligned with managing a for-profit business than a public agency.
The nonprofit sector has become a very distinct and important “third leg” of employment in the United States today. The university is not unique in missing the growing importance of the nonprofit sector. Moreover the nonprofit world is outpacing all other sectors in growth and influence. Students who aspire to manage and administer nonprofit organizations deserve training opportunities at least as rigorous in areas of specialization as training for entry into the public and for-profit sectors.
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The statistics are sending a clear message: nonprofit organizations are a major and growing force in the economy and today’s sociopolitical landscape. The number of charities and foundations in the United States reached nearly 1.3 million in 2010, representing a 150 percent growth over the last 20 years, and there are now 1.96 million tax-exempt organizations according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Even in times of economic downturn the number of nonprofit organizations and employment in the nonprofit field has increased, with about an average 44,000 new charities added each year between 2005 and 2009.
The situation at the university was not unique to that school. Although students interested in careers in the nonprofit field have a seemingly ever-expanding universe of opportunity for employment, today they have little or no opportunity in many universities to prepare for these jobs. Most universities offer courses in public administration and for-profit management, but of the nearly 4,500 US degree-granting colleges and universities, fewer than about 300 have courses in nonprofit management. Most universities have yet to recognize and seize the growing challenge of preparing students for work within this huge sector of employment. Yet it is in this sector where professionals who are committed to mission-driven work are most needed and where their skills can benefit society most.
Excerpted and adapted from the book, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraisingby Rudolph Rosen. Texas A&M University Press.