Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofit organizations operating in the United States grew by nearly 25 percent. During the worst recession in modern history, at a time when for-profits struggled to keep their doors open, nonprofits not only survived. They flourished.
A great deal of it has to do with passion. So says Catherine Hardy (MPA ’18). Currently an alumni affairs coordinator in the Office of Alumni Affairs, Hardy — a two-time Augusta University alumna — said she was drawn to the idea of starting a nonprofit of her own by a lifelong love of animals.
“I have always had a passion for working in animal welfare and a dream to own and operate my own animal rescue organization,” she said.
In the fall of 2016, a joint effort between the Katherine Reese Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and the James M. Hull College of Business gave students like Hardy a chance to pursue their passions. The Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership, a 13-hour postbaccalaureate program, was designed to help students develop the leadership, management and communication skills necessary to lead a successful nonprofit.
Dr. Wesley Meares, assistant professor of political science, and Dr. Saundra Ribando, professor of political science, of the Department of Social Sciences were instrumental in creating the certificate program. Meares said the certificate demonstrates the university’s commitment to the local community.
“Augusta has one of the highest concentrations of nonprofits per capita in the country,” Meares said. “Recognizing this and seeing the need in the nonprofit community shows that we as a university care about our region and that we want to be good neighbors.”
Meares said the certificate is founded on a philosophy that good workers — and good leaders — ultimately make for good neighbors. But that work doesn’t necessarily have to be undertaken in the nonprofit sector.
“The great thing about this certificate is that it appeals to a large demographic,” Meares said. “Even if a student doesn’t want to work directly in the nonprofit field, it’s likely that they’ll encounter nonprofits, even if they’re in the private or public sector. The skills and knowledge developed in the certificate program can translate to work in any other sector.”
For graduates like Hardy, the certificate’s focus on nonprofit-specific curriculum sealed the deal.
“I researched the courses offered in both the Master of Public Administration and the Certificate of Nonprofit Leadership curriculums and knew that the courses offered would give me the skills I need to be successful,” she said. “Prior to making my decision, I had a meeting with Dr. [William] Hatcher, and his passion for the additional certificate helped me make my final decision.”
Contributed to by both the Master of Public Administration and Master of Business Administration programs, the certificate’s curriculum includes several electives, providing a more well-rounded education.
“I was able to take classes that included grant writing and administration, nonprofit marketing, nonprofit management and nonprofit financial management,” Hardy said. “Combining the knowledge gained from these courses with the courses offered in the MPA program will allow me to run my future nonprofit in accordance with local, state and national regulations.”
That knowledge is crucial, especially in such a large market for nonprofits. Unfortunately, up until a few years ago, training was scarce in the nonprofit sector locally.
“The certificate was birthed from a project by Dr. Saundra Ribando and her students,” Meares said. “They were looking at volunteer motivation in Augusta’s nonprofit organizations, and they found that most volunteers did not receive any training.”
During the study, students in the Master of Public Administration program expressed a desire to learn more about the nonprofit sector from a technical standpoint. Recognizing student interest, Ribando conducted a needs assessment and found an overwhelming need, both in the local community and the student population, for undergraduate and graduate nonprofit programs. Ribando then worked with various departments in Pamplin to launch an interdisciplinary nonprofit minor for undergraduate students. Afterward, she and Meares approached Hull about creating a postbaccalaureate certificate program.
The result, Hardy said, is the perfect blend between the practical and the philosophical — a mix of theory, passion and real-world knowledge that will prove invaluable in her future career path.
“I feel confident that, because of this program, I will be able to achieve my dream of successfully establishing and running an animal rescue organization,” she said. “The Master of Public Administration Program and Certificate of Nonprofit Leadership taught me far more than I could have ever imagined and for that I will be eternally grateful.”