NAOMI WISH, Seton Hall University
JOHN PALMER SMITH, University of Wisconsin
PABLO EISENBERG, Georgetown University
MARK ROSENMAN, Union Institute
As the nonprofit sector in the United States expands and the demand for competent management staff increases, educational institutions have been responding by creating graduate programs in nonprofit management to train leaders of nonprofits. The Bradley Center organized this panel to discuss the role and efficacy of nonprofit management education in creating new nonprofit leaders. William Schambra’s introduction on September 13 outlined some of the uncertainties surrounding such education. Is management training really the same as shaping nonprofit leaders? Will the professionalization of nonprofits discourage the “committed and passionate amateur” from entering the sector?
Panelists included Naomi Wish, director of the Center for Public Service at Seton Hall University, John Palmer Smith, the executive director of the University of Wisconsin’s Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management, Mark Rosenman, founder of Union Institute’s Center for Public Policy, and Pablo Eisenberg, director of the Center for Community Change.
Naomi Wish began with a broad overview of graduate programs in nonprofit management and the curriculum guidelines developed for such programs by the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (online at http://www.naccouncil.org/pdf/NACC_Guidelines.pdf). Wish noted that the first seven or eight of the topics covered by the guidelines are leadership-focused rather than management-focused. Wish also noted that universities generally look for “pracademics”—people who have academic qualifications and practical experience (a.k.a. adjuncts)—to teach the courses. Wish urged that those who seek to evaluate the impact of nonprofit academic degree programs and centers take into consideration how much each of the stakeholders—students, community organizations, and the sector as a whole—clearly gain from their existence. For example, the ability of the nonprofit sector to advocate its needs (for example, in the face of government scrutiny) is enhanced by the centers’ existence.
John Palmer Smith followed up on Wish’s remarks with a discussion of the reasons for the growth of graduate programs in nonprofit management, both on the demand side and on the supply side. On the demand side, universities are responding to requests from students and nonprofits. On the supply side, initiative by professors, the support of Independent Sector, and the willingness of local funders to start programs has fueled growth. The programs don’t just teach, Smith noted; they do research and provide services as well. As for the question of whether leadership can be taught, Smith underscored that he believed that leadership could indeed be taught within universities as well as through direct experience. He asked the audience to “think about these centers as trying to carry out the three major missions of the university—education, research and service—but with a focus on nonprofit organizations.” This might help to account for the variety of degree programs and interests among these centers. Smith concluded with an answer to Bill Schambra’s introductory question about the possible failure to create leaders by teaching students management. He referred back to Wish’s curricular guidelines and argued that seven of the eight topics were directly aimed at teaching leadership rather than narrower management functions.
Mark Rosenman’s remarks addressed directly what he sees as the lack of leadership in the sector as a result of an emphasis on management through academic degree programs. There is a prevailing sense that more efficient management is the solution to the nonprofit sector’s problems, he began. Nearly twenty years after penning an op-ed about the dangers of such programs, Rosenman observed that the sector’s leaders indeed tend to focus with great confidence on management while lacking a broader view that includes stewardship of a mission and the role and function of the sector itself – in a word, leadership. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005 is Rosenman’s prime example; people thought they could manage the cleanup and caretaking and failed to grasp what they were up against. Finally, after two decades and more, no one knows whether these academic degree programs have changed practice in organizations or made a difference in organizational life, Rosenman concluded.
Pablo Eisenberg agreed with Rosenman that nonprofit programs are producing “technicians” instead of leaders. He enumerated four basic reasons for this. The first is that the programs overstress quantitative skills at the expense of leadership and organizing skills – and good writing. The second problem is the lack of practical nonprofit sector experience among faculty at these programs, and as a consequence the disconnect between academic pursuits, the students’ need for job placement, and the sector’s need for praxis-oriented research (for example, on accountability and the relationship between the sectors). Eisenberg holds little hope for nonprofit academic degree programs. “I think we will have to in the future invest much more money into … alternative forms of developing leadership than pumping all sorts of money into creating masses of academic center,” he concludes.
Bill Schambra stopped the discussion there for audience questions, asking in particular that the audience consider not only issues of instruction and curriculum in graduate programs, but also the implications of these programs for civil society more broadly.
Amy Kass asked the panelists to distinguish between management and leadership. Pablo Eisenberg responded that he saw little connection between management training and good managing. Mark Rosenman suggested that the distinction between leadership and management was that management was a set of organization behaviors. Naomi Wish clarified that leadership is an overused term, but that the leadership in question was the ability to create social change.
Several more comments and questions followed related to the composition of students at nonprofit graduate programs, and about the role of social work in these fields.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at email@example.com.