Readers of William Schambra’s article, “The Professionalization of Charity?” (November/December 2003, p. 26) can rest assured that far from devaluing small, volunteer associations, nonprofit management programs embrace and teach them as fundamental, core aspects of philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and democracy.
Unfortunately, the article oversimplifies and undervalues philanthropic studies and nonprofit management programs. Cultures throughout history have relied on acts of philanthropy as essential elements of civil society. Studying them not only helps us understand philanthropy itself but also provides us with a lens through which to understand the history, traditions, and practices of diverse societies across time and cultures — as well as the roles that different types and sizes of organizations play.
This alone is reason enough for university study of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations as a field, but there are many other important reasons. Philanthropy is a powerful influence in our society, and is increasingly the focus of public discussion, media attention, and public policy. The number of nonprofits has exploded in the past few decades, and philanthropic giving in the U.S. likewise has skyrocketed, soaring from just over $24 billion in 1972 to nearly $241 billion in 2002, with more than 75 percent now coming from individuals. Yet it remains the sector about which least is known. A sector that is interwoven into our communities and daily lives must be better understood.
Philanthropic studies and nonprofit management programs provide information for individuals, the news media, and public policymakers that allows informed, fact-based debate over the role that private, voluntary organizations play in our society and how they operate. They enable us to better assist other nations to effectively build democracy and civil society. And yes, they help equip employees and volunteers in nonprofits to lead those organizations in an ethical, effective, and efficient manner. This comes not only through training in practical management issues, but through studying the history, culture, and traditions of philanthropy that provide the foundation they need to understand the context of their work and to understand and relate to the “outside forces” to which Schambra refers.
Schambra is correct that substantial tensions exist in the sector between the quest for efficiency and professionalism on the one hand (which he sees as represented by nonprofit management education) and the irreplaceable benefits of grassroots pluralism on the other. He seems to imply, however, that there is little value to the former, and that the sector should be left primarily in the hands of the small, local, voluntary organization. I believe there is a need to understand these tensions and help others understand them as well.
The freedom for individuals and groups to approach an existing problem from a new vantage point, to test new ideas, to be engaged citizens, and to express their uniquely personal values is a valuable driving force in the nonprofit sector and in society. It is critical that those qualities be preserved. But the environment in which even the smallest volunteer-run organizations operate is growing increasingly complex.
The best nonprofit management education programs enhance rather than eliminate the role of volunteers and small organizations, just as they enhance the organization’s ability to meet its goals, rather than co-opting or pre-empting its mission, values, energy, spontaneity, and enthusiasm. They combine the knowledge of practitioners and scholars and bring together scholars from multiple disciplines to examine both theoretical and practical questions. Our goal is to be a resource as nonprofits seek to strengthen their planning, management, and evaluation — things that individual donors all across the nation are calling for—and, ultimately, to increase nonprofits’ chances of surviving and succeeding.
Demand for these programs comes from small and large organizations, from the increasing number of nonprofits, and from a generation of young people who want to do something meaningful with their professional lives, who see the possibility of changing the world and want to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to do that in the best way possible, whether as volunteers or paid staff. A growing number of volunteers and nonprofit professionals also seek academic courses to upgrade their knowledge and understanding.
Nonprofit management programs are being embraced and incorporated into the academic life of many universities, with the full support of faculty and administrators. Universities such as Indiana, Harvard, Grand Valley State, Duke, Arizona State, and Case Western Reserve are just a few examples. These and many other nonprofit academic centers have become a valued part of their universities and are helping other universities to develop meaningful programs. We believe that our new Ph.D. program, designed for both practitioners and for scholars who want to conduct research, teach, and lead nonprofits, will assist in building knowledge and providing stewardship of a sector made up of organizations large and small.
— Eugene R. Tempel
Executive Director, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University