In On Being Nonprofit: A Conceptual and Policy Primer, Peter Frumkin attempts to present “a clarifying overview of the pressing conceptual and policy problems facing nonprofit organizations today.”
The magnitude of this task is readily apparent when one begins to understand how large the American nonprofit sector is. According to Nonprofit Nation by Michael O’Neill, there are 1.8 million registered organizations, in addition to “several million other associations,” whose collective revenues eclipse the gross domestic product of all but six foreign countries.
But boldly forward Frumkin goes, and the result is a book that provides the reader an excellent framework for understanding not only how nonprofits function in this country, but the problems they will face in the years ahead.
Frumkin, a professor affiliated with Harvard’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, explains these challenges by reducing the nonprofit and volunteer world down to their core functions: service delivery, civic and political engagement, social entrepreneurship, and values and faith. The balance of the book provides in-depth analysis of the effectiveness and weaknesses of each.
The section on civic and political engagement is a particularly good example of how Frumkin approaches his subjects. In the political arena, nonprofits play important, and diverse, roles. Their activities range from the general (building trust, cohesion, and social capital in communities) to the particular (lobbying and campaign fundraising). Yet the very activities that can strengthen a grassroots network’s effectiveness can also generate the forces that make it unresponsive. Advocacy and lobbying, for example, are essential in bringing forward and correcting a variety of issues. They also can lead to factionalism-and occasionally legal problems.
The rules governing how aggressively a nonprofit may lobby vary depending upon the type of group. Public charities (501[c]3), for example, may lobby, but it may not be “substantial.” Social welfare organizations (501[c]4), however, may have lobbying as their exclusive activity.
As with all nonprofits, civic and political nonprofit groups depend upon “social capital” to succeed. And direct political activities are the greatest single threat to that capital and to a nonprofit’s effectiveness.
Donors serious about the larger forces that are shaping the future of the nonprofit world they support will find this work logical and essential.
Donors seeking to improve American education know that the need for more highly skilled teachers is urgent. One group working to supply that need is Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Founded in 1994 and modeled in part on Teach for America, ACE is a highly competitive teacher-training program for university graduates that admits about 80 students each year. Most of these attended Notre Dame or other Catholic colleges. The program’s goal is to prepare students for careers as Catholic educators. Though young, the program has had considerable success, and soon-to-be-completed longitudinal studies will likely strengthen the program’s growing reputation for excellence.
ACE is not for the faint-of-heart. Spanning two full years, students combine a rigorous summer-school curriculum of more than 40 total hours with four full semesters of teaching in Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools in the South. At the program’s conclusion, students have a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and are fully licensed to teach. The prospect of running this gauntlet to obtain a relatively low-paying position doesn’t deter the number or quality of applicants. Seventy-five percent of all applicants carry a 3.5 or better undergraduate grade point average, and ACE accepts only about 25 percent of those who apply.
Teaching Service and Alternative Teacher Education is an insider’s history of ACE. Philanthropists interested in models for strengthening teacher training will find much to benefit them in this book. From curriculum to assessment, Teaching Service tells, step-by-step, how the ACE program was originally pulled together; how it has evolved; how it’s financed; and what its plans for future growth include.
Among the many indicators that ACE succeeds: its graduates stay in education—69 percent of the first ACE class is still in the field. A particularly remarkable statistic, says Christian Dallavis (one of the book’s 14 essayists), when you realize that if they hadn’t chose ACE, these students “would be engineers, consultants, doctors, and lawyers.” What’s even more interesting is that these overachieving people stay in teaching. Seventy percent of all ACE graduates are still in education. “What happens to someone in ACE that elicits such strong dedication and commitment to schools, often the schools they served during their time in the program?” Dallavis asks. “Credit the communities in which these people work and serve . . . . One thousand teachers across the nation, tied by the common experience of serving America’s neediest schools, sharing a vision of the future of Catholic education in terms of teaching, community, and spirituality.”
When teaching history in college, I often heard a substandard student declare the desire to become a teacher because “I love kids.” Love of children is good. But as ACE demonstrates, a rigorous curriculum, tight-knit community of learners, and spiritual depth will sustain teachers when idealized love for kids fades.