Op-Ed Advocates Nonprofits Need More MBAs, Including Marketing-Wise

Op-Ed Advocates Nonprofits Need More MBAs, Including Marketing-WiseI was thrilled to read this recent op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Harvard biz school graduate Mike Kerlin, who sets the stage by reminding us that only 6% of MBAs enter nonprofit management. Yikes. I didn’t realize the situation was so grim.

What’s useful about Mike’s take here is his:
1) Caution that business tycoons like Gates and Buffett who become philanthropists aren’t the norm; and that philanthropy alone will not change the world. (Hallelujah, Mike. Finally!)

2) Understanding that nonprofits are the critical implementors for putting these funds to work; and that

Without talented leaders who can manage donor dollars as they would shareholder investments, nonprofit organizations can easily founder, rendering Gates’ and Buffett’s good intentions worthless.

3) Clear explanation of how well-trained experts trained in business can turn the tide towards stronger nonprofit orgs (remember, business isn’t restricted to corporations, it’s how organizations work)

The new era of philanthropy needs more M.B.A.s and other private-sector professionals to run effective and efficient nonprofit organizations. With business-savvy leaders come essential tools – marketing, finance, accounting, operations and organizational  leadership – that maximize philanthropists’ “social return on investment.”

For example, two-thirds of nonprofits fail to measure the results of their marketing programs, according to a survey conducted by Nancy Schwartz & Co. Such basic management techniques lie at the core of an M.B.A. curriculum.

(Thanks for the mention, Mike.)

4) Call to action for MBA administrators and students, nonprofit organizations and the corporate world to join together to make more MBA-nonprofit matches possible:

Nonprofit organizations need more than just patchy forays from M.B.A.s. Some private companies have begun offering “externships” or “loaned executive” programs. Many business schools have begun paying off the loans of students who choose lower-paying nonprofit careers. To link students early with nonprofits, the Wharton School launched the Wharton Non-Profit Board Leadership Program, which places M.B.A. students on local nonprofit boards. Late last year, La Salle University pulled together students, professors and seasoned executives by acquiring the Executive Service Corps of Delaware Valley.

These innovations help nonprofits, but in the end, more M.B.A. students must be willing to forgo profits earlier in their careers, and more nonprofits need to pay enough to compete with private-sector salaries.

Expertise is the backbone of organizational success; and expertise has a price. Somehow, somewhere, nonprofit organizations need to be able to pay it.

I’d love to see Kerlin’s quad — of MBA administrators and students, nonprofits and corporate citizens — come together to make his vision a reality. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as this year’s MBAs-to-be enters the gates of learning.

PS I have an MBA myself, so I know that although it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of personal development, it is a course of study that prepares one in a broad range of organizationally-crucial disciplines.

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Nancy Schwartz on August 21, 2007 in Nonprofit Communications, Philanthropy, Trends | 2 comments
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  • Nothing against MBAs, but at the same rate, the article and your post seem to speak as if that’s the only relevant management degree for nonprofit leaders.
    In the past decade, a number of specialized nonprofit management programs have been developed at universities across the country, and they draw together education and experiential learning in management along with a focus on the unique challenges of nonprofit leadership.
    There’s definitely a better brand consciousness of an MBA, and the degree has been around longer, but there are other degrees that offer comparable–or even better–preparation for nonprofit leadership. (One could make the case that asking, “Why aren’t more MBAs in nonprofits?” is similar to asking, “Why aren’t more sociology PhDs in the field of anthropology?” They’re similar fields, but there are key differences.)
    Again, I think the core principles of the article and your post remain true; I just wanted to break it out from being solely about those with the MBA degree.

  • I am on the board of a non-profit in Durham, NC – The Scrap Exchange. We often get students from the Duke Fuqua School of Business to be on our board as part of their school work. http://www.fuqua.duke.edu/ . It is invaluable.

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