Nonprofit management class is ‘more than meets the eye’

If I told you that I had taken nonprofit management this fall, you might think, “Oh, that’s nice — a class about philanthropy. Good for you.”

But you would be missing most of the point.

First, can we just take a moment to recognize how neat it is that a business school offers a nonprofit concentration? This is one of the things that absolutely fascinates me about business — that the concepts in this field of study transcend the obvious. Sure, we learn how to run regressions, but more than just business people need good leadership training (“please volunteer my boss,” anyone?); more than just managers need to understand budgets; and more than just for-profit companies need good business practices. In fact, I would argue nonprofits may need them the most.

Enter: Nonprofit Management, also known as OAM 536.

This was not a class that taught us how to raise money. In fact, we learned to stop raising funds altogether and to start selling impact. Think about it: Why do people give to a cause? Is it because they couldn’t think of anything better to do with their pocket change? Of course not. They’re still buying something; it’s just not a physical good or service like a for-profit would sell. It’s an impact in the community or the world.

One of the key learnings from this class is that, as in the for-profit sector, it is critically important to go beyond identifying outcomes to craft a well-defined strategy that will reach those outcomes, as well as a mechanism for measuring success along the way. Most importantly, though, you must know exactly what the impact is that you’re selling, including the precise benefit to your donors that other nonprofits could not provide (or the added benefit you provide to them over no partnership at all). This reminds me so much of what we learned in our marketing core class with Professor Ryan Hamilton: who is your customer, what do they want and how can you give it to them better than the competition? It was never so clear before to me how well this and other core for-profit concepts translate to the nonprofit sector.

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite highlights from the class:

  • So many guest speakers! There is much to learn in the classroom, but to me, there is nothing like hearing it straight from the director of a major nonprofit. Our speakers came from organizations ranging from the Eastlake Foundation, to Teach For America, to American Cancer Society. The speakers were so engaging, and so “real” — even admitting mistakes and lessons learned so that we could benefit from the insights they gained and engage in frank discussions about the actual challenges facing these organizations.
  • There were a lot of surprises in store for us in this class. Did you know that it’s not just a binary (for-profit and nonprofit) division between these sectors? There’s a spectrum that includes corporate social responsibility, social enterprise and social purpose business. How about the fact that the 501(c)3 designation is only one of 25 different types? Or that nonprofit jobs account for 10 percent of the American workforce?
  • Most of our professors have a passion for what they teach, but not quite like Brian Goebel and Randy Martin did in this course. They truly brought an infectious energy and enthusiasm for the topic to every class.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of topics, which ranged from governance, to measurement, to history and innovation. I have worked in academia — one very specific type of nonprofit — for 10 years and was blown away by what a narrow, biased and inaccurate view I had.
  • The course was cross-listed with Rollins School of Public Health and Candler School of Theology, so I had the humbling opportunity to learn from quite diverse and different-minded individuals. This provided a layer of enrichment to the learning experience that I have not had in other classes.

I suppose it comes as no surprise that my overall rating of the course is high. However, I hope that anyone reading this will not focus on that but rather take away that there is so much more depth to this topic than meets the eye. I hope that anyone interested in leadership in the social sector (whether through serving on a nonprofit board or as a professional in the sector) will greatly benefit from this class.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to my fellow students, Kara Mathewson (18MPH) and Lisa Sthreshley (19EvMBA), and to our professors, Brian Goebel and Randy Martin, for your input.

Ashley Freeman

Ashley Freeman

Ashley Freeman is a class of 2018 Evening MBA student and an independent leadership coach and speaker. In her free time, she loves crocheting, traveling, teaching French, piano and cello lessons, and spending time with her husband and pet bird. Connect with Ashley on Twitter (@AshleyFCoaching), Instagram (@AshleyFreemanCoaching) or on LinkedIn.

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