By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Illinois nonprofits taking it on the chin during the state budget uncertainty might consider going back to school.
Leaders looking for ways to strengthen their organizations have found some help in specialty programs like the ones at Washington University Olin Business School in St. Louis.
Dr. Stuart Bunderson, a professor at the school, has been on the faculty since 1998 and for the past three years has been leading the executive programs, which includes a 20-month Executive MBA offered at several locations, including St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, India and China.
“We also have nondegree programs, for people interested in learning something but not necessarily working toward a terminal degree like an MBA. They’re just coming for, for example, a Certificate in Management or courses offered on an open enrollment basis.”
The Executive MBA is about developing management skills “regardless of your organizational context,” he said. “In every class we always have students there who are in not-for-profit settings who are there to learn leadership, management skills, operations, finance, budgeting, supply chain — all of the things that are just as relevant to running a nonprofit enterprise as they are to running a for-profit concern.”
Every class has at least a handful of people trying to better their understanding of the nonprofit world.
Among those who apply for the program are retired military personnel and those who have had successful careers in business and want to do more with their lives.
“In a class of, say, 50, we probably have five to 10 in a not-for-profit environment. It might be education. It might be government people,” he said. “We try to actively recruit those people and have scholarships for them. It can be a little harder paying for an Executive MBA tuition if you’re coming from a not-for-profit background.”
Many such individuals lack practical management experience.
“Folks in the not-for-profit world very often are mission driven, they want to make a difference. Some are ambivalent about the management, financial, accounting and operations side of an enterprise. Not only are they ambivalent, but in some cases they are actually somewhat negative about it. To them, it’s the enemy.”
In other words, they are driven by things besides money.
“They want to deal with the higher purpose of their mission, and I love that about them,” Bunderson said. “It means they’ve identified a cause that’s real, that meets a need. Yet when they get in there they find out they have real problems — like how to manage a workforce, how to continue funding, how to market, how to communicate your vision to constituents?”
He added: “All those tools and skills and framework have been developed and perfected, most often, within business schools.”
A couple of years ago, as part of the nondegree arm of the Executive MBA program, the school designed a Certificate in Business Management for Not-for-Profit Professionals. It was done in partnership with the United Way of Greater St. Louis and with the Brown School of Social Work at Wash U.
Working together, the parties identified agencies in the United Way network that were generally doing well but beginning to face management and organizational challenges. United Way nominates participants for the Washington University program.
“If nominated, the program is free,” Bunderson said. “Those people come in and take a variety of courses on topics such as applying business thinking to a nonprofit organization, financial reporting, brand management, stakeholder influence and managing your board. They’ll come in and take these courses with other high-profile nonprofit leaders. At the end of it they walk out with skills that become transformative to them as individuals as well as for their organizations.”
Bunderson said nonprofits have seen growth in recent years, despite a trying economy.
“Between 2007 and 2012, private sector employment dropped about 3 percent, but during that same period, nonprofits created jobs every year,” he said.
Between 2003 and 2013, there was an increase in 501 (c) (3) organizations, with 24.7 percent growth in Illinois, he said.
Nonprofits are critical, not only because of the good they do through their missions, but also because of the employment they provide.
Some 1.6 million nonprofits accounted for around 10 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2010, he said.
Nonprofits by the numbers
The following information is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- In 2012, nonprofits accounted for nearly 550,000 jobs in Illinois, accounting for 11.3 percent of employment across the state.
- Nonprofit employment increased by 8.5 percent (10.5 million to 11.4 million) from 2007 to 2012.
- Despite the recession, nonprofits created new jobs every year from 2007 to 2012.
- Total wages increased from $421 billion in 2007 to $532 billion in 2012, an increase of 26 percent.
- The number of newly established nonprofit organizations increased 15 percent (from 232,396 to 267,855).
- Total private-sector employment declined 3 percent between 2007 and 2012.
The following is from the Urban Institute
- From 2001 to 2011, the U.S. saw 25 percent growth in nonprofits while for-profit businesses only increased by 0.5 percent.
- Approximately 1.6 million nonprofits employed 10 percent of the U.S. work force in 2010.