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Competition Retools Professional Development

The Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations is taking a long, hard look at itself. Established as one of the nation’s first fully developed nonprofit management programs in 1984, the Mandel Center suspended enrollment for the 2011-12 academic year to evaluate its offerings and revamp its programming. No professional development programs will be offered while the review is in progress but existing students are taking courses.  “We’re trying to be very cautious. It might sound ominous to someone when you’ve suspended enrollments. In this case, it’s for a very strong, powerful reason,” said Richard Boyatzis, interim executive director of The Mandel Center, based at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The process began this past summer when they “started to feel like we were missing the market,” he said. The review includes an internal task force of senior faculty from each of the schools related to the nonprofit management program, as well as an external review panel. “We weren’t really helping advocate and prepare people for nonprofit leadership and management as we aspire to,” Boyatzis said. One of the things that became clear, he said, was that the center could not sustain a major graduate program with only 11 full-time students. Enrollment has been drifting downward for the past decade, from the low 20s down to 14 students in the prior year.

The center a few years ago opened the program to part-time students, who were primarily from northeastern Ohio. “It became pretty clear to most of us by the late 1990s and into the 2000s that because of demographic changes, for a school like ours if we didn’t offer our students in-residency format or a full-time program, we weren’t going to have much of a market,” said Boyatzis.

“For all of us who sit on nonprofit boards, we began to realize when we ran workshops for more executive types, we could draw people in from the whole country. It dawned on us that we’re really missing the boat by not reconfiguring programs to offer from a wider area,” he said. That issue came to a head in January when they realized another program cycle would be missed if they kept waiting.

“Fundamentally, by the delivery system we had — weekly courses in the evenings — we were locking ourselves into northeast Ohio,” he said. “We don’t want to do something that would preclude those folks from coming. To have a sustainable, growing program, you need to open that up. The goal is anywhere in North America,” he said.

If all goes according to plan, Boyatzis hopes to launch new programs by August 2012, which would mean recruiting students by this coming September. He has hopes of doubling the enrollment, if not in the first year then by the second year. “It rests on the idea of accessing people at a minimum from North America and at a maximum, anywhere in the world,” he said. The Mandel Center examines curriculum on a regular basis, with revisions as necessary at least annually, Boyatzis said. At least one or two courses per year “go under pretty careful revision and updating,” he said, in addition to updating courses for new data and trends and developing new courses as the need arises.

For instance, classes on social media didn’t even exist just a few years ago. A social media class at The Center on Philanthropy (CoP) at Indiana University sold out each time it was offered last year, sometimes with waiting lists, according to Timothy Seiler, director of The Fund Raising School at the CoP. Enrollment hasn’t been as strong since it was expanded to two days, whether because of the added expense of two days or increased offerings in social media from other programs, he said. “There’s a plethora of opportunities to go to courses for social media. It could be that supply could be exceeding demand,” Seiler said. “There’s growing interest in that area, no question about it.”

At North Park University in Chicago, the program gets a complete evaluation every five years, said Wesley Lindahl, dean of the School of Business and Nonprofit Management. The primary class that was added the last time, about two years ago, focused on outcomes assessment. “We realized that was a missing part of our nonprofit program, so all students have to take that class,” he said. “Accountability is now a big buzz word in nonprofits, tracking success and outcomes, it’s a whole class that keys on that.”

Other changes included reducing one core course while adding another elective. That way, Lindahl said, if someone is interested in a particular area, such as fundraising or financial management, it provides students more flexibility in pursuing their specific interests. Accountability and transparency issues are very popular in the management program, Burlingame said, with an interest in the role of boards and other mechanisms in the West that provide accountability to the public, the state and individual donors.

According to Dwight Burlingame, director of academic programs at the CoP, which is located at IUPUI, a hybrid campus of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, there is much more of a focus on international issues, whether it’s from U.S. students or those from abroad, and how philanthropic and nongovernmental organization sectors in other countries operate. In particular, he sees increased interest in humanitarian relief, not just disasters but also war-torn regions.

At Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, workshops and study groups are evaluated on a 1-5 scale with an aim to average 4, according to Loren Gary, associate director for Leadership Development and Public Affairs at the Center for Public Leadership.

“We’re constantly tweakingÉ Ones that don’t do that well we take a hard look at first. What do we change if this is a topic we want to continue, or change a facilitator or topic or drop it,” he said, adding that the study groups tend to be more experimental than the foundational workshops. Topics for study groups will change more from year to year while foundational workshops tend to be invested in two- to three-year runs, at least. One self-awareness workshop, he said, had been running almost six years while another on faith and leadership likely will remain but may no longer be a core.

Workshops tend to be more contact hours, at least 10, while study groups are more like 8 to 10, and less on skill building but more on reflection on one’s experience in leadership on a topic, Gary said. Approximately 600 students a year participate in the study groups and workshops. All programs at IUPUI go through a rotating, five-year program review with an external and internal team conducting a major assessment, said Burlingame. That’s separate from any accreditation requirements.

What the Mandel Center is doing is “much more serious than the typical program,” Burlingame said, essentially deciding what they’re going to do in terms of the entire program. Course attendance at The Fund Raising School at the CoP dropped by almost a third after the recession hit, according to Seiler. Enrollment has slowly been coming back, particularly in the last quarter of 2010, he said, but still lags the 45 to 50 participants seen pre-recession. There’s also been a bigger decrease in the number of contract courses for local or regional organizations, Seiler said.

Approximately 1,250 participants go through The Fund Raising School courses on an annual basis, with another 1,500 to 2,000 for the contract courses. In peak years, courses had about 3,500 participants, Seiler said.

“We know what every nonprofit goes through when budgets are tough; We go through the same things. Nonprofits even told us, they want to take more courses but travel and training budgets have been cut. It’s an unfortunate occurrence in the nonprofit world, but it’s one of the first things that get cut in tough times,” Seiler said. “It’s just a reality that we face in tough times. We have to take a look at our model, if things don’t get back to normal as they were before — if it’s not a stronger rebound — we have to look at the structure,” he said.

The graduate program for nonprofit management at North Park University is seeing its highest enrollments in the dozen years it’s been open. Enrollment is up 5 percent compared to previous year, at an all-time high, with about 150 students in some aspect of the graduate program in nonprofit administration, according to Lindahl. “There’s definite interest in the marketplace” for graduate programs, master’s degree in nonprofit administration, along with a typical MBA, with nonprofit courses, as part of that, he said.

An annual survey of North Park students indicates that more people are hoping to move from the for-profit world into the nonprofit sector, Lindahl said. Two years ago, only 6 percent of students taking nonprofit courses were working in the for-profit sector compared to 13 percent this past year. The vast majority of students (83 percent) still come from the nonprofit sector. Only about 3 percent are unemployed. The typical student is someone who’s working full-time in the nonprofit sector, he said, mostly middle managers at nonprofits looking to get training and education to get promoted.

With the continuing education element in particular, the number of competitors in the marketplace has increased, said Burlingame. “Certainly, that’s true for academic programs. It’s just grown so dramatically. If we hold our own, we’re actually doing well,” he said. “The environment has become more much competitive, which is a good thing in most cases; you’re able to shop for quality.” NPT

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