Higher Education and Nonprofits

GVSU introduces philanthropy and nonprofit leadership degree

Graduate students will have the chance to work with local nonprofits.

June 27, 2014
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West Michigan is good at philanthropy. Grand Valley State University will try to make it better.

Responding to increased interest and continued market growth, GVSU is introducing a new graduate program for working professionals in the nonprofit sector — a master’s degree of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership — beginning this fall at the university’s downtown Grand Rapids campus.

The new 36-credit-hour program requires students to have three years of full-time experience in management or employment in the nonprofit industry before enrolling. The new degree is designed to teach students how to ethically and effectively lead and manage nonprofit organizations.

The curriculum incorporates coursework, applied research, a workshop series, professional development and field experience for students looking to start a career or advance in the nonprofit industry.

Students can choose an emphasis in mission advancement, nonprofit health care or community impact. Some of the classes integrated into the graduate program include financial management, human resource management, leadership courses, nonprofit management and philanthropy.

Salvatore Alaimo, a professor in the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration at GVSU, said the new graduate program resulted from a need recognized about five years ago.

“Enrollment in our nonprofit concentration was steadily going up,” said Alaimo. “Students kept expressing interest for more of a stand-alone degree.”

With growth in the national nonprofit sector, Alaimo said not only are more organizations being established, but also there is a need to look at social issues in a different manner.

“There has been a growth in this area and I think this growth is indicative of our student enrollment,” said Alaimo. “The new ways that people are trying to deal with these social issues, new ways of working with government, new ways of partnering with businesses … it is a combination of sheer growth in volume, but also a need for new, innovative ways to try to tackle these things.”

According to the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social policy research organization located in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit sector increased 25 percent from 2001 to 2011 in terms of organizations established. The 2012 Nonprofit Almanac from the National Center for Charitable Statistics reported a 17 percent change in employment in the industry from 2000 to 2010, while businesses saw a decline of 6 percent in the same period.

The May 2014 “Economic Benefits of Michigan’s Nonprofit Sector” report prepared for the Michigan Nonprofit Association stated nonprofit organizations in the state spend more than $80 billion annually, hold assets of nearly $217 billion, and directly employed more than 438,000 individuals in 2013.

For the combined metropolitan area of Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Muskegon, there were 1,671 public charities, 468 private foundations and 588 non-charitable nonprofits as of 2011, according to the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Alaimo said the decision to separate the master’s program from the undergraduate concentration was based on the interest level, ideas and needs expressed through feedback on a feasibility survey from approximately 409 nonprofit organizations in West Michigan.

“We also wanted to provide an environment where we could provide some synergy,” said Alaimo in reference to providing an opportunity for working professionals. “(Let them) take their work experience into the classroom and sort of conversely take what they learn in the classroom.”

He said one differentiating factor of the philanthropy and nonprofit leadership master’s program is incorporating innovative methods to solve social problems, such as the Creativity and Social Entrepreneurship course that was developed in partnership with GVSU’s Seidman College of Business.

“That class is a good example of how we are trying to look to the future, trying to forecast and trying to pay attention to what the future managers and leaders need to operate in this work,” said Alaimo.

Due to the SPNHA’s affiliation with the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Alaimo said students enrolled in the new master’s degree program will be able to work with local organizations to gain hands-on experience.

“We partner informally with local nonprofits, in that a lot of our final papers or projects will involve (students) to get out in the community and do what we call small-scale research with those businesses,” said Alaimo. “Sometimes it is a tangible deliverable that they will turn into the organization. … We look for a win-win for students to get a hands-on experience and the local agency receives something they can use.”

The Johnson Center for Philanthropy also developed a Foundations and Strategic Grantmaking course and a leadership workshop as part of its partnership with SPNHA.

The master’s degree philanthropy and nonprofit leadership classes are offered online, during the weekends, and in the evening to provide flexibility for working professionals enrolled in the program.

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