The nonprofit sector is full of organizations, many of which are operating below peak performance. With unlimited ideas, low barriers to entry and decidedly limited funding, we have a sector with enormous volume and an overall lack of effectiveness. While the overall problem definition is accurate, well trod and unlikely to change, there are worthwhile remedies. The goal of the course is to study the solutions that work. We start by exploring all of the external and internal forces that cause weakness in nonprofit strategy and execution. Then we determine what factors can lead to high performance. We’ll review case studies and other real world examples to learn how the best nonprofits surmount significant barriers to produce great results.
The course is six sessions. The first three sessions focus on the nonprofit operating environment and the central strategic issues facing nonprofits today. The next two sessions deal with finances – the over-emphasized keys to smart revenue generation and the under-emphasized importance of effective spending. The last session rivets on talent – both at the board level as well as senior staff – and how you should think about crafting a path with high impact both during and after your business education. As a newly minted MBA, your skill set will be in high demand in the sector. That said, the direct application of for profit strategies to nonprofit work has limits. We’ll look at where and how to take the best of private thinking, adjust it and apply it to nonprofit performance. We’ll question many commonly held assumptions on the sector. The course will touch on theory, but will be grounded in current practice.
Whether you have past experience, current involvement or future aspirations, you should take this course if you’re interested in pushing changes as an: 1.) institutional or individual donor; 2.) board member; 3.) executive director or senior leader; or 4.) management consultant. The goal is to give you the knowledge and skills to work from either inside or outside to drive nonprofits to achieve.
Amy Houston was a Columbia Business School faculty member from 2010 to 2021.