Recessions always hit the nonprofit sector particularly hard, and that, Columbia Business School professor Raymond Horton says, gives MBAs and today’s nonprofits more to offer each other than ever. In the latest installment of Columbia’s Ideas at Work, Horton argues that “We shouldn’t be trapped into thinking about nonprofits as so fundamentally different that they are somehow beyond the purview of MBAs.”
Nonprofits and private-sector organizations have more in common than is often acknowledged, and Horton says the role of an MBA in a nonprofit is basically the same of an MBA in a leadership role at any firm: to lead, to manage and to use available resources to deliver results.
“With proper attention to the nuances of the nonprofit world, most of what MBAs learn in business school can quite readily be applied in a nonprofit or public-service career. MBAs can bring hard skills in financial management and analysis at a time when nonprofits and their funders are increasingly using assessment tools — both quantitative and qualitative — to measure their success. MBAs may also smooth the path between nonprofits and their corporate supporters, bridging gaps in communication and culture,” Horton explains.
At Columbia, MBAs and the public and nonprofit sectors intersect in the Nonprofit Board Leadership Program, a place where MBAs can put their expertise to use in service to a nonprofit. “Board leadership can give a big bang without requiring a wholesale career switch,” says Horton. In the strategic-philanthropy course, students learn how a thoughtful, effective philanthropy program can be shaped and managed even if they’re not ready to run a nonprofit or public agency right out of the gate, he adds.
“The emergence of social enterprise as an umbrella under which a range of private, nonprofit and public enterprises prosper has helped MBAs — hundreds of Columbia MBAs included — see through artificial divisions that once precluded nonprofits from revenue-generating endeavors, and public companies from adding social value to their financial bottom line,” Horton says. “Market and nonmarket and nonprofit situations are reconcilable.”
Nonprofits are almost always forced to use remarkable ingenuity to stretch their dollars–something their counterparts in the private sector infrequently face. These limitations, Horton says, require a high degree of creativity and problem-solving skills that entrepreneurial MBAs should relish.
Empty pocket image courtesy of Flickr user Stuart Pilbrow, CC 2.0
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