Nonprofit studies at colleges paying off, students say

Several area schools are offering programs

April 22, 2001|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

Although Bob Gehman has worked at nonprofit organizations for nearly 30 years, until recently he had no formal training in how to craft a strategic plan or manage a staff.

So Gehman, executive director of a Baltimore homeless shelter for men, enrolled in a new program at the Johns Hopkins University to get a certificate in nonprofit studies. He says the program, which began last fall, gives him valuable business skills and allows him to network with others.

"You really are able to get some good ideas from people who are experienced in the field," Gehman says. "You find some new ideas and new resources where you can connect and make the community stronger."

Programs such as the one at Hopkins have been cropping up in Maryland and around the country. Last fall, Goucher College began offering a certificate program in nonprofit management, and the College of Notre Dame of Maryland began offering degree programs in the same field. Two years ago, the University of Maryland, College Park began offering a nonprofit specialization in its School of Public Affairs.

About 90 similar programs are offered around the country, reflecting growing awareness of the nonprofit sector and its impact on society.

They offer information on fund raising, private-public partnerships, tax policy, community organizing, voluntarism, marketing, accountability, resource management and program development. They educate people about the relationship between nonprofits and government - the two are often more intertwined than people think - and talk about the role of nonprofits in society.

"For a long time, there was no recognition of nonprofits," says Lester M. Salamon, a principal researcher at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies and a leading expert on the nonprofit sector. "Everyone was talking about government. ... A major part of the economy was totally ignored."

Salamon pioneered the empirical study of nonprofit institutions, helping to make Johns Hopkins one of the foremost academic centers in the world focusing on nonprofits. He is directing a large-scale international study of the sector.

Studies by Salamon have shown that more than 195,000 people are employed by nonprofits in Maryland, including churches, hospitals, universities and social service organizations. Nonprofits provide 11 percent of the employment in Baltimore and account for 25 percent of new jobs in the state. Nonprofit workers earn more than $6 billion in annual combined salary.

"This is a growing sector of our economy," says Peter V. Berns, executive director of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. "There are good jobs out there for folks who have this kind of specialized knowledge and expertise." At the same time, there is "a growing desire among the organizations for more professional management."

Johns Hopkins conducted a feasibility study two years ago that showed strong interest in a certificate program, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation provided $137,000 to help get it off the ground.

Many of the 35 students in the Hopkins certificate program, such as Gehman, work for nonprofits and are eager to hone their skills. Others are graduate students at the Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. Several are returning Peace Corps volunteers.

Gehman, who runs the Helping Up Mission, a men's homeless shelter on East Baltimore Street, says he felt a need to update his skills after nearly 30 years in the field.

"I wanted to make sure that I was on the cutting edge," he says. "You know, you get caught up in doing things and sometimes you fall behind in the theory and what's being written and new ideas. The nonprofit world is changing so much so fast it's important to keep up."

Kathryn A. Miller, who does fiscal grants management in the Governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families, says she signed up for the certificate program at Hopkins because she wants to make the transition to more hands-on work. She says the Hopkins program helps in her job, allowing her to better understand the nonprofit groups and agencies the office helps to fund.

Hopkins certificate students are required to take three core courses and four electives from topics including ethics and accountability, nonprofit law, media relations, fund raising and accounting.

The program at Goucher College is similar. Students take five nonprofit management courses in addition to electives, choosing to concentrate in fund raising, public relations, historic preservation or meeting planning. The program has about 20 students this year.

Ann Bryan, coordinator of the nonprofit management program at the College of Notre Dame, says the program there is designed to be practical and business-oriented rather than theoretical. When she was looking for experience, she got a master's degree in business administration, but that did not address many concerns unique to nonprofits such as tax exemption or how to work with volunteers.

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