A new era for
With the arrival of a new director in September, the LBJ School’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service moved into a new phase of its development.
Established in 2000, the Center is part of a nationally recognized program at the LBJ School that was crafted by founding director Curtis W. Meadows, Jr. Today, Peter J. Frumkin, the Center’s new director and a professor of public affairs at the LBJ School, says he would like to build on the RGK Center’s strong teaching foundation and add new research and outreach initiatives that will move the center ahead in the coming years.
“Curtis Meadows did a phenomenal job developing the teaching programs of the Center across the university and within the LBJ School,” Frumkin said. “My goal is to add to what Curtis built by offering two classes in the spring, one on nonprofit strategy and entrepreneurship and the other on philanthropy, and at the same time to direct some of the Center’s focus outside of the areas where it’s strongest right now.”
As part of this goal, Frumkin said that he intends to bolster the RGK Center’s research component by using his work in such areas as philanthropy (see related story) and national service and work being done by LBJ School Lecturer Sarah Jane Rehnborg in the area of volunteerism.
Saying that he wants the RGK Center to “connect with the real world of nonprofit practice,” Frumkin described a new executive program for nonprofit leaders that he plans to launch soon.
“The goal would be to position the RGK Center as a provider of higher-level management training for nonprofits,” he explained. “We’ll take the best ideas from the degree programs, condense them into accessible form and make them available to nonprofits because we think that’s an area that is not getting that much attention.”
Frumkin stressed that the program would not focus on technical training in specific areas such as budgeting or computer spreadsheets. Instead, he envisions short residential programs that will focus on strategy, management, performance measurement, innovation and other topics related to effective nonprofit management.
In the international area of the RGK Center, Frumkin said the Center’s current program—which is propelled by the Trilateral Civil Society Education Consortium—would continue its educational and outreach initiatives. In its fourth year, the consortium includes nine universities in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The program provides educational and research opportunities for students and faculty to study civil society and the nonprofit sector in the international sphere.
Frumkin notes that there has been significant change in the area of nonprofit studies during the last decade because educators have found that students now have a much broader vision of what they want to do with their careers.
“People are not spending entire careers in either government or business,” he said. “In fact they are moving back and forth across business, government and nonprofits. Both business and public affairs schools have wanted to broaden their curriculum so that they can prepare people, orient them to the fact that there are at least three major career sectors in which they can work.”
As a result, schools across the nation have developed cross-disciplinary programs that incorporate nonprofit management in very practical ways.
“I’m not so sure that the real thrust is in the area of credentialing people for an entire professional career in nonprofits,” Frumkin said. “It’s more the idea that people are interested in moving across sectoral boundaries and that knowing something about nonprofits is increasingly part of the preparation you need.”
While students have found a need to straddle the areas of nonprofit management, public policy and business to ensure success and flexibility in their careers, both the government and business sectors have learned that nonprofits need to be taken seriously. In government, contracting and privatization have pushed certain functions to nonprofits and business firms; in the corporate world, businesses are finding they need the support of nonprofits.
“Increasingly, nonprofits have a strong connection with business, and business realizes that it has to get their support, particularly in the international domain, where nonprofits are active in setting standards and engaging in oversight and accountability systems of corporate activity,” Frumkin said.
Another reason for growth in the field is that nonprofits enjoy more freedom than other entities in the public sphere. While they are accountable to funders and need to be responsive to their clients, nonprofit groups do not answer to voters and shareholders. “It gives them a certain autonomy that is very attractive,” Frumkin pointed out. “I think what makes them a very valuable part of the landscape is that they can be a place for social experimentation and innovation.”
In addition, the world of nonprofits appeals to young people because they are able to make their mark quickly in that field. “It’s a place where you can control your own destiny earlier than you would be able to in either government or in business,” he said. “You can go out and start a nonprofit organization, or get involved in nonprofit and have a leadership role at a much earlier stage than in other sectors.”
Before coming to the LBJ School in September 2005, Frumkin was an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was affiliated with the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. He has been a senior fellow of the New America Foundation and has worked as a foundation program officer, a nonprofit manager and program evaluator for both nonprofit and public agencies. In addition, he has lectured on philanthropy at universities throughout the country and served as a consultant to foundations and individual donors on strategy and evaluation.
Frumkin is the author of On Being Nonprofit: A Conceptual and Policy Primer and co-editor of In Search of the Nonprofit Sector. His new book, Strategic Giving: The Art and Science of Philanthropy, is scheduled to be released by the University of Chicago Press this coming summer. He has also written numerous articles on topics related to nonprofit management, philanthropy, cross-sector partnerships and service contracting. Currently he is working on a large-scale empirical study of the effectiveness of the AmeriCorps and VISTA national service programs.
By María de la Luz Martínez
© Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
14 November 2005
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