The HR Council for the Non-profit Sector reports that “there are concerns about where future non-profit leaders will come from to fill vacancies” as the previous generation of workers retire from the workforce. They identified this leadership deficit as a significant issue in the sector, particularly with how succession will be handled.
Recognizing that how we work in the sector is changing at a rapid pace, Nonprofit Quarterly spoke with nine thought leaders to discuss how non-profit management curricula might evolve to respond to these changes. While they agreed that many new graduates are learning practical technical skills “from project management to budgeting and finance,” they shared concerns about “the broader context in which these skills might be deployed to improve conditions in communities and accomplish real change.”
When asked what program they would design to best prepare graduates for leadership positions in the non-profit sector, their answers coalesced around five key ideas:
1. Leaders need to understand how to establish an organization’s community value.
In order to be a successful leader, one must ensure that the non-profit they lead is consistently providing a service of value to their community. That means that as communities change, so too must the services offered by the non-profit with the aim of being a catalyst for this change.
2. Programs must teach students how change happens.
If a non-profit is to act as a catalyst for change in their community, then its leaders must understand how change happens – and how to develop the tools necessary to make that change happen. In the group’s experience, change doesn’t necessarily happen from the top of the organization but from deep within it. Leaders should help facilitate this, top to bottom and bottom to top.
3. Students need to learn how to work collaboratively and collectively as part of a group.
With an increasing emphasis on “networking, collective impact, and boundary crossing,” future leaders must learn when to cede individual autonomy for the collective good and to nurture intersectional partnerships.
4. Programs must recognize the importance of selecting an appropriate organizational structure and business model.
Technology has spurred exponential growth in the range of organizational designs and structures available, and future leaders must think beyond “hierarchy, ranges of traditional governance choices, and partnerships and mergers…to support a high-engagement organization [that] is both dynamic and exciting.” This includes a clear path to revenue.
5. Students need to practice.
Quite simply, students need to apply their learnings to real-world scenarios in the non-profit sector, whether through case studies in the classroom or placements through partnerships.
New England College’s Master of Science in Management offers a concentration in non-profit leadership, which helps train the future leaders in the field. The program’s outcomes include strategic thinking, leadership, management skills, and ethical behavior. NEC School of Graduate and Professional Studies has formed partnerships with New Hampshire and Maine businesses, healthcare institutions and non-profits to offer the Master of Science in Management program on-site at their locations. This degree is also offered in a completely online format which attracts students throughout the United States and many countries from all over the world.