Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness

Education enables great leadership and positive change for the nonprofit sector

Professional development programmes can help charity leaders adapt to their fast-changing environment, writes Professor Paul Palmer of the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness

While every industry is supported by a choice of universities, providing graduates with robust knowledge, education and qualifications that enhance their career progression, very few universities offer courses in voluntary sector management - which reflects the non-profit sector’s Cinderella status.

Yet charity leaders today are facing unprecedented challenges and, more than ever, need professional development and support.

The challenges they face are highlighted in a new report published by Charities Aid Foundation and Acevo, entitled Social Landscape: The State of Charities and Social Enterprises 2015.

The report found that one in five smaller charities is struggling to survive. The report also highlighted that generating income and achieving financial sustainability is the most pressing challenge facing charity chief executives, and that two fifths of chief executives in large charities are concerned about a reduction in public or government funding.

While there are centres for charity, third sector, civil society or philanthropic study across the UK, and a couple of new centres springing up, they are generally replacing centres that have shut.

In reality, the non-profit sector in the UK is poorly served by academia. The number of universities offering courses and qualifications in voluntary management, leadership development are few and far between. While the body of sector knowledge has grown and there has been an increase in research activity, specialist higher education management provision for the sector, it is still a cottage industry.

One factor that has hindered growth is how much individuals and the government really value civil society. Even in the boom years of government funding for the sector, there was limited development in voluntary sector management training that would be sustainable in the university sector.

Considerable investment was made in non-university provision, but with the financial crisis much of the capacity-building that was created has now disappeared as most of it was unsustainable outside of government subsidy.

Also, the value of investing in leadership and management training in charities hasn’t been realised. Compared to their private and public sector counterparts the money spent on the management development of sector staff is less than a quarter.

The sector has contracted and expanded according to the wishes of government but, with new funding models like social finance becoming more widely available, things are changing. We are starting to see an increased demand for leadership and professional development in the sector, particularly in areas like social investment and social impact.

However, to be truly successful, a major investment in educational capacity at an advanced level comparable to a commercial MBA is required and organisations and funders wishing to engage in this new form of finance will have to invest in capability at an executive level.

The need for greater professional development was even more pronounced twenty years ago. At this time, our founder Professor Ian Bruce who was then director of the Royal National Institute of Blind People compared his own management development when previously in the private and public sectors and was so frustrated with the lack of professional development courses on offer to the nonprofit sector, he took action to change the status quo.

Fortunately, his idea was fully supported by Cass Business School, part of City University London, and ten years ago it also received financial backing and support from The Worshipful Company of Management Consultants, a modern livery company of the City of London, which it still does today.

The goal then and now was to offer the nonprofit sector the same quality of leadership and management development that the private sector enjoys and to enable great leadership and transformation in the sector.

Today, Cass CCE is a well-known destination for students to gain world class masters degrees and a place for charity executives to come for professional development courses, as well as the latest thinking and academic research.

Our MSc courses are finely tuned to the needs of the sector. The content is always highly practical, grounded in reality and our courses are led by a mixture of consultants, academics and charity leaders who share their perspectives, experiences and learnings. It is this knowledge transfer that is so highly prized and so vital in the sector. The five part-time, specialist MScs cover areas including charity accounting, NGO management, philanthropy and social investment, marketing and fundraising along with voluntary sector management.

Focusing on the future, the sector is undergoing continuous transformation and a new government will no doubt bring further changes. As ever, leaders in the sector need to adapt and evolve and to do so, it is essential that they have the right professional development and support.

Professor Paul Palmer is the director of the Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness (Cass CCE)

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