Academic Spotlight: Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership

From 2001 to 2011, the number of nonprofits operating in the United States grew by nearly 25 percent. At a time when for-profit businesses were struggling with high unemployment rates and decreased revenues, nonprofit organizations — now accounting for more than 10 percent of the American workforce — were flourishing.

Today, nonprofit organizations do everything from feeding the homeless to preserving the world’s artistic and cultural history. It only makes sense, then, for universities to begin preparing students for a future in the nonprofit sector.

This year, Augusta University will do just that.

Beginning in the fall of 2016, Augusta students will have the opportunity to earn a postbaccalaureate Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership. A joint effort between the Katherine Reese Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the James M. Hull College of Business, the 13-hour program will equip students to develop the leadership, management and communication skills needed to effectively lead a nonprofit organization.

At its core, the certificate shows the university’s dedication to current and prospective students.

But Dr. Wesley Meares, assistant professor of political science and public administration and program director, said it also shows 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.”

The core of that philosophy, Meares said, is that good workers — and good leaders — ultimately make good neighbors. But that work doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the nonprofit sector. In fact, having a broader, more inclusive program only helps to strengthen the university’s commitment.

“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.”

Contributed by both the Master of Public Administration and Master of Business Administration programs, the certificate’s curriculum includes a number of electives, providing a more well-rounded education. More importantly, it also provides a baseline of training for students.

That, Meares said, was one of the issues that first led to the certification’s inception.

“The certificate was birthed from a project by Dr. Saundra Ribando and her students,” he said. “They were looking at volunteer motivation in Augusta’s nonprofit organizations, and they found that most volunteers did not receive any training.”

This understanding, in turn, spurred another project which focused on looking into the capabilities of nonprofits in the greater Augusta area.

During the study, students in the Master of Public Administration program expressed a desire to learn more about the nonprofit sector. Recognizing student interest, Ribando conducted a needs assessment and found that there was 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 MPA and MBA programs were naturally a great fit to contribute to the certificate,” Meares explained. “Working close with Drs. Marc Miller, Simon Medcalfe and Mark Thompson, we were able to identify areas in which the MPA and MBA could contribute to the certificate.”

The result, he said, is a program unlike any other in Georgia.

Dr. Quincy Byrdsong, vice president of academic planning and strategic initiatives and chief diversity officer, said the joint effort is an exciting step forward for the university.

““I think the excitement in the colleges as well as the administration shows that we have something special here,” he said. “The university is showing that it is invested in the overall well-being of the region by continuing to understand the needs of students, the community and society at large.”

For more information about the Certificate of Nonprofit Leadership, contact Wesley Meares at

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Written by
Nick Garrett

Nick Garrett is a communications coordinator in the Division of Communications & Marketing at Augusta University. Contact him at 706-446-4802 or

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Written by Nick Garrett

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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