Chart a Career Course in the Non-profits

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Local universities offer a variety of non-profit management certificate programs. Is one for you?

Here’s an interesting stat. According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers believe non-profit organizations possess more warm qualities like kindness, generosity and honesty than for-profit companies with one caveat: they’re less competent in business practices. So while many non-profits work for the betterment of their communities, if their leaders lack business acumen, their organizations may struggle and even not survive. But with the advent of non-profit management certificate programs at local colleges and universities, non-profit leaders can learn business skills necessary to excel in a for-profit world.

Jeremy Joslin, assistant dean, Loyola University School of Professional and Continuing Studies, previously worked at two large Chicago-based non-profits. In both positions, Mr. Joslin constantly heard remarks that non-profits needed skilled leaders to run the organization like a business entity to ensure success. Passion alone just didn’t cut it and as Mr. Joslin commented, “all the good intentions in the world won’t help.”

Even non-profit leaders who are knowledgeable in business have cause to enroll in a program tailored specifically to non-profit business management. By nature, non-profits have a slew of concerns that separate them from for-profit businesses – differing governmental regulations, fundraising, marketing and the use of volunteers. Collegiate certificate programs address these issues with courses like Essentials of Fundraising and Marketing (Kellogg School of Management) and Legal Issues in Philanthropy (Northwestern University).

Kellogg’s Executive Scholars’ non-profit management certificate program changed my life,” says Gwendolyn Whiteside, producing artistic director, American Blues Theater. Ms. Whiteside, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree, felt that while her education had prepared her to be an artist, it didn’t adequately prepare her to be a business leader. After earning her non-profit management certificate at Kellogg, she facilitated the transformation of the non-profit theater’s infrastructure – a move that led to profitable and operational growth within the theater. “It’s called ‘showbiz’ and not ‘show art’– now I get the difference,” says Ms. Whiteside. “The best quote from one of my classes was, ‘Non-profit means non-taxed.’ This sounds simple, but we consider our theater a small business that should be profitable.”

And just how profitable is it to enter the non-profit sector? According to a 2012 Johns Hopkins University bulletin reported as part of the Non-profit Economic Data Project, 2.1 percent of the non-profit sector gained employees annually on average between 2000 and 2010. In contrast, the for-profit sector lost jobs at an average rate of 0.6 percent annually.

Non-profits have managed to be a rock of economic stability during the turbulent times of years past, and the millions of employees at non-profit institutions have cause to be thankful. However, with a growing work force comes the added competition of newcomers. To stay competitive in the workplace and grow professionally, many non-profit workers seek avenues to advance their knowledge of the sector.

“Having something on your resume [like a non-profit management certificate] shows that you put effort into knowing your sector,” explains Joanna Janczurewicz, academic coordinator for professional development programs, Northwestern University. “Anything you can do to differentiate yourself from the pool of applicants and professionals is a good thing.”

By Michelle Phelan

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