The time has come for nonprofits

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The time has come for nonprofits

One of the fastest-growing job sectors in the country isn’t in the board room or the factory, though those are often the benchmarks by which economic health is gauged. Surprisingly, recent accounts in U.S. News & World Report and on CNN report that a major source of job creation lies in the area of nonprofits — organizations whose missions and objectives aren’t always about the bottom line.

According to CNN, the United States is home to about 1.5 million nonprofits, from global giants — such as Atlanta-based Habitat for Humanity and CARE — to small local agencies. The news agency also reports that nonprofits spend about $1.5 trillion each year and employ 13.5 million people, making that segment the country’s third-leading work force.

“Nonprofits’ time has come,” said Patricia Chase, director of Central Michigan University’s Master of Science in Administration (MSA) program. “It’s predicted to be an area with 27 percent growth in the next three to five years. Talk to community foundations in any area, and they’ll tell you a new nonprofit starts almost every day. The ones that are well-managed and have a desire to do it right will hire people who are qualified to run them. And that’s a niche that needs to be filled.”

Training the work force to fill that niche is the goal of a new program that will soon be offered by Central Michigan University’s Global Campus. Beginning in January, online courses will be available for an MSA with a concentration in philanthropy and fundraising, a program created specifically with the needs of the nonprofit sector in mind.

Chase said interest in the program has been strong since it was announced in September. “Within the first week, we had 100 inquiries from all over the country, which is the cool thing about a global program.”

Though it will have a focus on managing the finances of a not-for-profit organization, the program differs from a traditional Master of Business Administration.

“This degree is an alternative to an MBA; it’s much more diverse, more flexible,” Chase said. “It has a solid foundation in theory, but the focus is on application, particularly in philanthropy and fundraising that are fundamental to nonprofit management.”

Chase, whose own background includes directing a nonprofit children’s museum, said the program features courses that students can immediately transfer to the working world.

“For instance, how do you manage a nonprofit? Many come from the kitchen table and have people on the founding boards who may not have any business background,” Chase said. “Through this interdisciplinary program, they have courses with an administrative core around strategic planning, financial management, human resources and public relations that will prepare them to enter higher-level administration in almost any industry.”

Among the online courses will be offerings in assessing the financial health of an organization and analyzing how it benefits a community; managing a diverse and multicultural environment; and the function of nonprofits in society. Additional focus will be on the ethical practices of fundraising and grant writing, grant administration and making programs sustainable.

“Most people have never had a grant, and if they are lucky enough to get one for their nonprofit, how they manage it may affect them getting another one down the road,” Chase said. “You won’t find that in a more general business program; it’s very specialized. By putting it online we can extend the reach to people all over the country, since there are so few programs like this.”

But Chase also expects that continued growth in the nonprofit sector will spawn more programs like the MSA at other institutions.

“We are a giving society, but we want to make sure our money is used the way it was intended; we want someone to be accountable,” she said. “When I was a nonprofit director, I would have loved to have had a program like that could have answered all the questions I had. There’s an end point to what you can learn on your own, and this program fills the need to know more.”

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