The Michael O’Neill Award during the MNA 35th Anniversary Event, April 25, 2018



The Michael O’Neill Nonprofit Leadership and Management Education Award is a named after USF Professor Emeritus Dr. Michael O’Neill, a recognized scholar in nonprofit leadership and management education who founded the MNA Program in 1983, the first nonprofit-specific graduate program of its kind. The award was instituted on April 25, 2018 during the 35th Anniversary Celebrations of the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) Program. The Award recognizes exceptional leaders who demonstrate excellence in nonprofit leadership and management with educational strategies, systemic solutions and sustainable impact.

About Prof. Michael O’Neill, Ed.D.

Dr. Michael O’Neill, Ed.D. is recognized as the father of nonprofit management education (NME) field. He demonstrated his leadership through the founding of the Master of Nonprofit Administration  (MNA), the first graduate degree of this kind. He also founded the Institute of Nonprofit Organization Management (INOM) and served as President of theAssociation for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA). He was also instrumental in the establishment of Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC), the accrediting body for NME programs.


Liz Jackson-Simpson

Liz Jackson-Simpson is CEO of Success Centers. We recognize her exceptional example of a committed nonprofit leader providing systemic solutions for at-risk youth and disenfranchised communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Alexa Cortez Culwell, MNA

Ms. Alexa Cortez Culwell, MNA  is the co-founder of Open Impact and a longtime philanthropy advisor, speaker, and facilitator. For the past 25 years she has built and managed foundations and philanthropic initiatives for successful entrepreneurs, including serving as the founding CEO of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. She recently completed a four-year appointment as a visiting practitioner at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

Jeanne Bell, MNA

Ms. Jeanne Bell, MNA  is the former CEO of CompassPoint and current Director of the Nonprofit Quarterly NPQ‘s Advancing Practice program. She also serves in the Advisory Board of  University of San Francisco’s MNA program. She is a recognized author of numerous articles on nonprofit leadership and management including The Sustainability Mindset (Jossey-Bass, 2015).



The 2019 Award Ceremony will be on Saturday May 4 during the THE FUTURE OF NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP, an annual event of the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) at University of San Francisco’s School of Management featuring professionals and expert leaders reflecting on current and future trends relevant to nonprofit organizations, philanthropy and social enterprise solutions for the needs of our communities.

A panel discussion representing community leaders, MNA alumni, student, faculty and advisors will respond to Liz’s remarks in their view of the sector. The Panel will be moderated by Sergio Cuellar, MNA ’17, Program Manager, Sierra Health Foundation and will include Sheryl Evans Davis, Executive Director, San Francisco Human Rights Commission and Karen Campbell, MNA Student & President, Nonprofit Student Council.

The event includes a networking reception to celebrate our graduates and review the nonprofit sector analyses of students completed in their capstone projects and featured in printed posters. These represent the experiential learning and project based values of the program that develop competent value leaders while also contributing to the capacity and effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.

Please join us to connect with nonprofit leaders, sector professionals, MNA alumni and graduating students who represent the Jesuit mission of our university to “change the world from here.”

Learn more and register for the event here 

The Posters produced by the MNA graduating students during their Capstone course exemplify the contributions that the program gives to nonprofit capacity development and data driven social impact analysis
Beatrice D. Cardenas, MNA is a respected nonprofit leader in the San Francisco Bay Area known for her inspiring advocacy for healthier and equity communities.
The Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) Program at University of San Francisco has been a pioneer in nonprofit management education and continue to inspire innovative leadership and management solutions to complex social problems.

Meet the new Nonprofit Student Council Officers!

New Council Officers will help maintain institutional knowledge, better represent part-time students, and provide greater oversight and inclusion for all NSC affairs.

SAN FRANCISCO – With its mission to, “provide a unified voice for students with a focus on promoting and improving the MNA program at the University of San Francisco,” the Nonprofit Student Council (NSC) has appointed new officer positions, better serving the Nonprofit Administration (MNA) student body, and advancing NSC’s mission.

Founded in August 2015, the Nonprofit Student Council is the official student association for the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) program, providing a unified voice for MNA students, engagement in professional activities and opportunities, and practicing the transformational leadership needed to enhance the missions of University of San Francisco, USF’s School of Management, and the overall MNA program.

Karen Campbell ’19

  • Part-time MNA student
  • Karen is a consultant in the Malloy Consulting Group and actively interviewing for nonprofit leadership fundraising roles.
  • Previous work experience: An accomplished nonprofit professional with more than 15 years experience within the sector, Karen’s previous work at The San Francisco Foundation, Slide Ranch and National Dance Institute New Mexico demonstrates her passion and commitment to social justice, youth development, the environment, education and the arts.

David Byrd ’20
VP of Programming

  • Part-time MNA student
  • David is currently the Grants Manager at On Lok, a senior services agency based in SF.
  • Previous work experience: David has been writing grants for nonprofits in San Francisco and San Diego for the last 12 years and has helped secure more than $50 million in funding for programs and services. David is a California native, born and raised in nearby Davis.

Cristina Chavez  ’20
Co-VP of Communications

  • Part-time MNA student
  • Cristina is a Program Assistant in Alumni Engagement at USF’s Office of Development.
  • Previous work experience: Braille Institute of America, Cristo Rey Boston High School, and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps

Kelly Cousins ’20
Co-VP of Communications

  • Part-time MNA student
  • Kelly is a Development Associate at Family Support Services, a nonprofit whose mission is to nurture children, youth and caregivers to keep families healthy and intact.
  • Previous work experience: Kelly has been working in Nonprofits in development and administration for years. Previously, she also worked as a teacher.

Kat Alcaraz-Minnick ’20

  • Part-time MNA student
  • Kat is employed at Stanford University and works in the Sexual Harassment Policy Office as the Training Compliance Assistant.
  • Previous work experience: Extensive nonprofit experience in higher education institutions and religious organizations. Kat is a San Francisco native who graduated from USF with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Marketing, and founded and co-operated a livery service for 10 years in San Francisco.

Sam Nelsen ’20

  • Part-Time MNA student
  • Sam is a RN in the Medical ICU at Zuckerberg SF General Hospital and is the head freshman boys Rowing Coach at St. Ignatius College Prep.
  • Previous work experience: Sam attended Seattle University for undergrad, and, while there, discovered a passion for nonprofit work where he led the school’s student-managed competitive club rowing team, and upon graduation started a 501(c)(3) booster organization for the club. While working at the Veterans Affairs as an RN, he coached at a local Seattle rowing team before moving into intensive care.

When Good Intentions Fail: How the Voluntourism Industry Fails to Make a Sustainable Impact and Uphold Ethical Standards

By: Cristina Chavez MNA ’20

Voluntourists are engaging with children. Photo credit: The Day
Image Source:

The idea of teaching English in Cambodia, assisting at a medical clinic in Guatemala or building a well in Uganda sounds like a life changing experience if you have two weeks of vacation to spare. However, these short-term international volunteer experiences do little to prepare, educate, or align the volunteer’s skill sets to meet of the needs of the community they serve. I’m guilty as well for having participated in these trips for educational programs. Many of times, I felt helpless and ill-informed when stepping into these spaces as a student. Many of these international engagement experiences do more harm than good to improve the quality of lives for the community and in result, contributes to the growing problem of the voluntourism industry.

As a growing 2 billion dollar industry, voluntourism provides various types of volunteer experiences such as eco-tourism, medical trips, teaching, and many more. Voluntourism is described as Westerners who travel abroad to undertake projects that seek to improve the lives of its community. A combination of emotionally-striking poverty porn and the chance to ‘make a difference’ fuels the desires of altruistic Westerners to volunteer abroad in these communities. This in turn does more to hurt vulnerable communities and plays into the narrative of the egocentric western savior complex. However, the voluntourism industry argues there are many pros to providing these trips such as transformative experiences, exposure to local communities, and fundraising opportunities.

The problem with the dark side of the voluntourism industry is that its feeds from complex systemic issues of poverty and suppression. Many voluntourists lack the understanding of their privilege and the oppressive systems when entering into these spaces. As Teju Cole famously tweeted, “The White Savior Industrial Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” Voluntourism takes on a nuanced-colonialism through the disguise of exotic travel with the hopes of ‘making a difference.’ For example, the popularity of voluntourism trips rose during the aftermath of natural disasters as evident in the case of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. While voluntourists contribute to this evolving problem, many NGO’s also hold responsibility by perpetuating the industry. NGO’s will at times invest more in catering to the experiences of voluntourists than it does to elevate and invest in its community by withholding funds from its community.

While voluntourism is well-intentioned, the industry must challenge itself to delve deeper to uphold a higher standard of ethics and establish concrete initiatives. I argue for the voluntourism industry to focus on several initiatives in order to achieve real impact such as education of social issues, sustainable development, cultural competence, measured impact, and a code of ethics.

Beginning with education, the industry needs to provide thoughtful, honest, and community driven programming around the social justice issues at hand. In addition, sustainable development projects must be community-centered rather than serve the experience of the volunteer. Volunteer skill sets, capacities, and experience should align accordingly with goals the community it is seeking to achieve in order to make sustainable impact. Cultural competence must be upheld when working with vulnerable and poverty-stricken communities. Clear communication, respect for beliefs and practices, and adaptability must be at the core when working with groups whose culture is different. In addition, voluntourists organizations need to measure impact on a short-term and long-term scale, considering all unintended consequences. Most importantly, voluntourism organizations should be upheld to a code of ethics and remain transparent at all times.

Voluntourism can make a positive impact, but it must move away from superficial engagement by upholding a strong code of ethics and calling on the support of professionals. It is also important to critically analyze the intentions of all involved–the voluntourist, voluntourism organization, NGO, and community. This must be an open conversation where all share collective responsibility.

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Watch: Voluntourism: When You Take More Than You Leave Behind | Madara Žgutė | TEDxISM

Piercing the Dark Money Veil

By: Kat Alcaraz-Minnick

Dollars on the desktop. Background. (Free photobank: / © Creative Commons License. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Retrieved from

The 2018 documentary movie, Dark Money, ironically shed much light on the subject of corporate money being funneled into 501(c)(4) (social welfare) and 501(c)(6) (association) nonprofit organizations to elevate candidates who would in turn support corporation agendas. Between 2010 and 2016, over $800 million in dark money was spent in federal elections alone according to Ciara Torres-Spelliscy’s 2017 article, Dark Money as a Political Sovereignty Problem.

Dark money is the process of an individual, corporation, or foreign entity funding a political actions committee (PAC) that is veiled as a nonprofit 501(c)(4) or a 501(c)(6) tax-exempt lobbying organization to support a particular candidate. This PAC will then use the funding without disclosing its donors to run a smear campaign against opposing candidates by bombarding relevant communities with postcards, issue advertisements, robo calls.  Once the candidate gains support and wins the office, this candidate will then turn and support the agenda of the individual, corporation, or foreign entity. This is a dangerous cycle that hands over control of the government to the corporations, wealthy individuals, and possible foreign entities; the people no longer control the government as the forefathers established in the United States Constitution.  Instead, the candidate pushes a directed agenda through the legislative platform to create policies and help pass laws that will benefit the very entity or individual that funded the efforts to place the candidate in office.  This is why we the people are shell-shocked when certain election outcomes from the federal level down to the local level reflect extreme ideals.

Last fall, Peter Overby with NPR wrote an article about the Supreme Court ruling that closed a 40 year-old Federal Election Committee (FEC) loophole.  Overby wrote, “the ruling closes, at least for now, a loophole that has allowed wealthy donors to finance aggressive ads while staying anonymous. Crafted by the Federal Election Commission nearly 40 years ago, the loophole flourished after the 2010 Citizens United ruling.”

There is much movement in Washington D.C. regarding donor transparency with respect to nonprofit groups buying ads or attacking political candidates. In the matter of The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, et al, v. Federal Election Commission and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the ethical question hanging in the air is whether nonprofits involved in election campaigning should disclose the donors funding dark money. I think they should and the Supreme Court agrees with the Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who struck down a FEC regulation on anonymous gifts to “dark money” groups (Overby, August 6, 2018).  I believe that the constitutional rights of the people should be preserved. The government is for the people, by the people; not for wealthy individuals, corporations, and especially not foreign entities. Unfortunately, as with most legal holdings, loopholes will abound. The 2018 ruling has a narrow application stating, “donors giving more than $200 to nonprofits “for the purpose of furthering an “independent expenditure” have to be disclosed to the FEC.”  Now, this means that nonprofits in the election game and dealing with dark money can control the categorization of donor funds. Who is watching? A wink here and a nod there from a corporation donating to a familiar nonprofit political action committee and it is business as usual.

What I find incredibly frustrating is that the nonprofit sector is being used for the market’s pleasure.  The tax-exemption status of the 501(c)(4) allows campaigning and lobbying for social issues. Civic leagues and social welfare organizations are exempt under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. Social welfare organizations generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Organizations that may be performing some type of public or community benefit but whose principal feature is lack of private benefit or profit;
  • Organizations that would qualify for exemption under section 501(c)(3) but for a defect in their organizing documents or if they were not “action organizations”; and
  • Nonprofit organizations that traditionally have been labeled in common parlance as social welfare organizations.

The IRS code states, “The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.” Dark money activity goes beyond pushing the envelope with respect to the IRS code; it rips the envelope.  The idea that social welfare and trade association nonprofit organizations are used to manipulate and influence local, state, and federal government upsets the nonprofit institute as an economic sector. The purpose of dark money is to conceal donors who fund PACs to directly change the course of the political arena. Transparency, accountability, and disclosure will help to place the control of government back in the hands of the people.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

    Sound bite of NPR’ article regarding Supreme   Court holding for donor disclosure prior to 2018 midterm elections.


Photo by Element5 Digital from Pexels

3-minute interview with Kimberly Reed, director of Dark Money

Strategic communication is the key to public action

By: Sam Tongo

Cries From Syria Documentary Screening & Discussion Mixer
“Dreams Without Borders” Art Exhibition – Students’ Final Project

The months after the 2016 presidential election were a very difficult for me to comprehend. I watched countless stories about social groups and communities having their rights violated, and I progressively became angry. Angry enough to learn more about the issues, angry enough to talk to my personal circles about it, angry enough to take action.

That’s when I decided to team up with friends who felt the same way, and created a grassroots advocacy group called LEADAC, standing for LEadership, ADvocacy and ACtivism. The past two years since then have been amazing in terms of developing awareness. We’ve had the honor of raising $6,000 for the aid of Syrian refugees, hosting a “Drink & Discuss” event for community members to have a safe space to discuss the Charlottesville protest, and creating a human rights class curriculum for our alma mater, amongst many more initiatives.

We are now, however, finding it difficult to push beyond just spreading awareness of certain issues via social media and events. We want to create real change at a larger scale. We’re wondering, “Why does it seem so difficult to think of actionable ideas that will work?” My first thought is because we are just a small, young grassroots advocacy group that still has a lot to learn. Yes – that’s true, but I recently read an Stanford Social Innovation Review article titled “Stop Raising Awareness Already” which argues that nonprofits should become more strategic and clear with its messages. I now have a better idea on how to move forward.

The article suggests that the gap between educating and encouraging people to act is wide due to a lack of structure when communicating call-to-action messages to the public. The main arguments are that: 1) awareness does not guarantee people changing the way they feel, think or act on an issue, and 2) an awareness campaign can lead to four risks such as leading to no action, reaching the wrong audience, creating harm, or generating backlash. This communication model is called the “information deficit model,” which is the concept that if you throw more facts at people, they’ll eventually come around on an issue. Although the case study was geared towards the scientific community, this model also applies to the nonprofit sector. An article titled “Facts versus feelings isn’t the way to think about communicating science” agrees with the earlier mentioned Stanford Social Innovation Review article on how awareness campaigns which use the “information deficit model” across multiple fields are most likely “incomplete” and “over-simplistic” in achieving its goals for public action. The common and natural instinct to make sure that many people are aware of the cause you care about is noble, but what next?

The article lists four essential elements to creating a successful public interest communications campaign:

  1. Target your audience as narrowly as possible
  2. Create compelling messages with clear calls to action
  3. Develop a theory of change (methodology or road map for how you will achieve change that includes objectives, tactics, and evaluation)
  4. Use the right messenger

There have been many organizations that attempted to evoke public action through awareness campaigns. However, former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse,” awareness campaigns stood out to me as specific examples of success and failure, respectively.


CDC’s “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse”
First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move”


The CDC’s objective with this campaign was to encourage more people to create preparedness kits in case of an emergency. Although the campaign became viral and included a clear call-to-action, Dr. Julia Fraustino’s case study on the initiative concluded that its humor distracted people away from the call-to-action due to them taking the issue less seriously. Despite its success in gaining popularity, the campaign failed in terms of getting more people to act on disaster-preparedness. I personally remember when this campaign launched in 2011, and I thought it was very clever of them to ride the “zombie trend” for more public awareness; however, I simply brushed it off and continued with my life instead of acting on the CDC’s message. I think the essential element the CDC failed to integrate in its campaign was “creating compelling messages with clear calls to action” due to the organization not prompting the public to take the issue more seriously.

The “Let’s Move” campaign, which launched in 2012, was an example of an awareness campaign that actually led to action and results. Obama’s strategy of researching the underlying causes of child obesity and referring to social science when communicating health issues enabled her to effectively encourage the public to live a healthier lifestyle in multiple ways. In terms of the essential elements to creating a successful public interest communications campaign:

  1. Target your audience as narrowly as possible (schools)
  2. Create compelling messages with clear calls to action (“drink more water” instead of “stop drinking soda”)
  3. Develop a theory of change (replace meal plans with healthy meals at schools)
  4. Use the right messenger (First Lady leading the initiative)

This article theorized that the reason her campaign succeeded was because “a clear and compelling call to action [was] delivered in an appealing way to a carefully considered target audience.” Strategic communication at this scale also helped prevent a waste of resources alongside providing solutions to social problems.

During a Global Studies lecture, a wise professor told us that “this moment in time will be written in history books and people will ask you about it – what do you want to say you’ve done?” Nonprofit organizations and grassroots advocacy groups like mine have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on many different causes, but won’t mean anything if nothing happens. We can’t do this alone, and the public is just waiting for someone to push them to act. Strategic communication is the key to public action, and should be adopted by all nonprofit organizations so they can achieve their missions.

Suspicious Swag: An Examination of the Ethical Sourcing of Nonprofit Merchandise

By: Kelly Cousins


Presently Family Support Services is preparing for our annual Fundraiser Gala. As with every year, this involves soliciting new ideas from, staff, Board of Directors, etc. This year, a recurring suggestion is the idea of swag bags; goodies that guests can take away with them to keep Family Support Services in mind long after they have left the event. I have worked at many nonprofits that sell or give away merchandise to fundraise for and promote their mission, and so this idea at first seemed like a perfect addition to the Family Support Services event. However, upon further reflection, it has become clear that nonprofit swag is an arena fraught with ethical dilemmas.

As recently as January of 2019, the world saw the power of swag to undermine a nonprofit’s mission in a matter of days. The article “Charitable Swag and Mission Violations: The Spice Girls, Comic Relief, and a Factory in Bangladesh” highlighted the scandal when U.K. based charity Comic Relief, which strives to “create a just world, free from poverty”, was caught in the crosshairs when T-shirts being sold at a Spice Girls Benefit Concert to fundraise for Comic Relief and gender equality were found to be produced in a Bangladesh factory in which women were being overworked, underpaid, and often abused. This scandal rocked the Spice Girls, Comic Relief, and the nonprofit sector in general by making it clear how easy it is for nonprofits to fall into unethical traps.

Swag is generally considered to be a great promotional and fundraising tool. Articles like Notes on the Importance of “Swag” from Obama and Romney, and Keep Donors Coming Back with Memorable Swag Bags imply that having some type of branded swag is not only a good way to promote your agency, but also a great way to thank volunteers and donors. Most nonprofits exist to address some type of inequality. Whether that is inequality related to race, gender, economic status, education, sexuality, food, etc., they are all united in their desire to do good in the world. Paying $5.00 for a tote bag that you can then sell for $15.00 sounds like an ideal fundraiser, but it is important to look deeper at the issue. If the workers making those tote bags are making only $1.00 a day to make these totes, and are unable to provide for themselves and their families, does that violate your organizational mission? Is it worth the savings?


Nonprofits have a responsibility to be doing the research to ensure that they are using only ethically sourced material in their swag. Most nonprofits cannot hire a watchdog agency or a private detective to track down detailed information on all of the organizations they buy from, so much of this research falls into the lap of already overworked nonprofit staff. This can seem a daunting task, but it is undeniably necessary, and there are some tools that already exist to help in this search. First, and most common, is looking for labels like Fair Trade Certified, or Global Organic Textile Standards. These labels demonstrate that the product, whether it is bananas or tote bags, complies with the ethical standards of these certifying entities. Another slightly more difficult step is to research the companies that you intend to buy from. Specifically, go in search of these companies’ internal “Code of Conduct” or “Code of Ethics”. These codes are sometimes easy to find, and other times buried deep in the website, but most companies have them publicly available. It is worth the time to poke around, and be sure when you find the code to read the fine print. This is where you can find information about the companies’ ethical values. A final valuable step is to gauge the company’s transparency. Are they clear about where they source material, or is this information nearly impossible to find? This is a good indicator of whether this organization has anything to hide that you might want to be aware of.

It is no longer surprising in this day in age to hear that businesses are sourcing their T-shirts, their coffee, their pens from sweat shops for one very simple reason; it is cheaper. As nonprofits, keeping costs down is a hallmark of our business practice, however this is somewhere where we need to draw the line, lest we find ourselves directly contributing to unethical companies that contradict our mission statements. Nonprofits like Labour Behind the Label are devoted to making this struggle more visible, and ethical purchasing more attainable, but we all must play our part.  Moving forward, as Family Support Services examines our options when it comes to organizational swag, we will be sure to do thorough research into how best to provide a full donor experience, while still practicing what we preach in terms of equality, sustainability, and ethical labor.

Cladwell. (January 25, 2016) “4 Ways to Know if a Company is Ethical and Sustainable.” Retrieved from:

McCambridge, Ruth. (January 24, 2019). “Charitable Swag and Mission Violations: The Spice Girls, Comic Relief, and a Factory in Bangladesh.” Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved from:

Keefe-Feldman, Michael. (June 22, 2012). Notes on the Importance of “Swag” from Obama and Romney. Nonprofit Quarterly. Retrieved from:

Momin, Sam. (June 23, 2017). Keep Donors Coming Back with Memorable Swag Bags. Nonprofit PRO. Retrieved from:

Experiential-by-Design in Nonprofit Education

The University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good  has been in the forefront of integrating community engagement in higher education. Recently, McCarthy Profiles for Community Engagement Learning included the reflections of Dr. Marco Tavanti on the MNA and now USF offered Academic Global Immersion (AGI-Rome) on Refugee Service Management as an example of experiential learning for global-local engagement (pp. 26-27).

Experiential learning, community engagement and project based education are probably the most important values behind the MNA Program. Our best practices in integrating professional experience and community have been recognized as emerging innovations and effective practices for nonprofit management education (NME), a field pioneered by Dr. Michael O’Neil in the MNA Program and his research.

In the accreditation process with the Nonprofit Academic Center Council (NACC) this feature of the MNA program was recognized as distinction of this degree as a learning beyond the classroom and beyond just service. In an article recently published by Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership (JNEL) the advantage and strategic process of of integrating  a Nonprofit Management Education (NME) programs like ours into experiential learning is crucial.

Access the entire article here:

2018 Experiential-By-Design: Integrating Experiential Learning Strategies into Nonprofit Management Education – Tavanti&Wilp JNEL

This is an excerpt from the Tavanti & Wilp JNEL 2018 article on the integration of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement into Nonprofit Management Education. These reflections and classifications should help Higher Education Institutions to thing strategically on how to integrate High Impact Practices (HIPS) into their curricula and programs.

“Learning through real-world experiences is a valued pedagogy in higher education and an essential method for educating effective nonprofit managers in the 21st century. The practical fields of management education and nonprofit management education (NME) aim to develop appropriate skills, competencies, and mind-sets relevant to administrative, organizational, and leadership careers. These objectives cannot be sufficiently accomplished through in-class lectures and activities only. They require more hands-on and community-centered approaches that increase student exposure to real-world situations while benefiting the capacity development needs of nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and the sector. When the NME field started offering nonprofit-specific graduate programs in the United States with the University of San Francisco’s Master in Nonprofit Organization Management (MPA/NOM in 1983), later renamed Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA in 1985), the need for experiential learning was not as urgent as today. Most of the students in the early development of the field were professionals with several years of experience in the sector. They sought theories to understand their own practices, along with university recognition for their leadership advancements (O’Neill & Fletcher, 1998; O’Neill & Young, 1988). The priority in these early years involved identifying the proper curriculum content rather than reflecting on the most appropriate pedagogical methods of delivery. In addition, because the students were already bringing their experiences into the classroom reflections and exercises, the need to utilize more community-centered methods was less of a priority. Michael O’Neill, along with Dennis R. Young and other NME pioneers, argued that the field had emerged to prepare those who were currently working in it or were preparing to be leaders and managers of private not-for-profit organizations, while educating public and private sector leaders and managers to interact more effectively with nonprofits (Dobkin Hall, O’Neill, Vinokur-Kaplan, Young, & Lane, 2001). Today, the distinction between very experienced and less experienced professional students is a major characteristic of the student population. This demands more strategic attention about how instructors teach and students learn, while providing more opportunities for university–community partnerships for capacity development. Properly designed experiential education activities, courses, and programs are fundamental for advancing the professional capacity of the sector and its future leaders (Cacciamani, 2017; Fenton & Gallant, 2016).

[…] “In graduate NME, experiential learning is and should be more than active learning or service learning. It is about working with NPOs to increase their organizational capacity, while accompanying students to become more effective in their competencies and capacity to consult, assess, and collaborate. The current shifts from experiential learning to experiential education and from service learning to community-engaged learning show the contributions of these models. The strategies and contextualization of the experiences in the University of San Francisco’s MNA Program can be adapted by other institutions and NME programs. They can do this by considering a community-centered model of education (Model 1), by considering a pedagogical praxis of students and community transformation (Model 2), and by designing programs that are relevant to local and global communities (Model 3).”

Model 1

This illustration shows the progression that NME program need to have to expand from a Teacher-centered model of teaching and learning into a Student-centered and beyond into a Community-centered type of experiential and project based methods

Model 2

This illustration shows how the methods for teaching and learning through experience and immersions align with the analysis and contextual engagement values of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigms expressed as Praxis Learning.

Model 3

This illustration highlighting the AGI-Rome methods for refugee service and forced migration management indicates the importance of connecting the global immersion with the local engagement for educating global-local (glocal) mindsets while promoting capacities for working beyond borders.

[…]  “Active learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, service learning, and place-based learning are some of the more well-known methods associated with experiential education (Godfrey, 1999). With the growth of NME programs internationally, there is also a clearer need for educating professionals not only with theoretical, philosophical, and historical notions but also with feasible projects and activities benefiting the learner and the partnering organizations.

Experiential learning is a growing field characterized by specific applied methods, a value-based philosophy, and shared benefits across teaching, learning, and communities. “Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities. (Association for Experiential Education, para 4). This definition is not exclusive to formal education, but it is relevant to a general approach to teaching, learning, and engagement. A wide diversity of methods, strategies, and approaches relate to practices of experiential learning across disciplines. However, such a diversity is also a source of confusion in the field.

Wurdinger and Carlson (2010) provide a useful overview of the most effective approaches to experiential learning:

  1. Active Learning: A group of experiential learning activities associated with classroom strategies such as role playing, simulation, debates, presentations, and case studies.
  2. ProblemBased Learning: Inquiry-based learning activities through in-depth investigations, self-directed research, and group-work inquiries.
  3. ProjectBased Learning: A type of experiential learning that stimulates students’ interests while developing their project management capacity, technology, and research skills and analytical presentation capacity. It can be individual or group work, teacher directed, student directed, or a combination of the two.
  4. Service Learning: A well-known approach to teaching and learning that often includes planning (community needs), action (service), and reflection (learning). The emphasis is on learning. It can be student centered or community based.
  5. Placed-Based Learning: A learning focused on a particular place or context. It is a holistic approach to education that uses the immersion into a context to support the vitality of a community. It can be far (global) or near (local).

Excerpt from:

Tavanti, M. & Wilp, E. A. (2018). Experiential-By-Design: Integrating Experiential Learning Strategies into Nonprofit Management Education. Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership (JNEL), Special Issue of the Bi-Annual Nonprofit Academic Center Council Conference, 1-23. ISSN: 2157-0604.

Available full text at the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership (JNEL) 

University of San Francisco MNA students meeting with the UNHCR EU representative during the Refugee Service Management AGI-Rome Global Immersion Program – January 2017. Many operators at this international organization have started their career with volunteers experiences and management entry works in nonprofits and NGOs serving forced migrants.
Dr. Tavanti with MNA and MIMS students during the AGI-Rome international Immersion Program 2018 after the visit to Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in their Italian office in Rome to understand their strategies to advocate for human rights and migration rights.

Learn more about these methods and the impact on the students and our communities here 

Learn more how the MNA Program integrate experiential learning for nonprofit management and leadership education here

Learn more about how our MNA program students learn through collaborative projects with nonprofit organizations and social enterprises in the Capstone Projects and Practicums for social impact analysis here  

Nonprofit Innovation for Sustainability

Ocean CleanUp Launching in San Francisco on Saturday September 8, 2018. Photo Credit: Dr. Marco Tavanti, Ph.D.

Did you know that nonprofit are at the forefront of social and sustainable innovation? In spite the persisting misconceptions of what nonprofits really are and the studied nonprofit cycle of starvation, nonprofit organizations are cradles for remarkable innovative solutions to solve our community, social and global problems.

The Rockefeller Foundation has been contributing to assess and scale nonprofit sustainable and social innovation. We appreciate the many heroes (mostly SHEroes) that become founders of initiatives and organizations to respond to specific social/environmental needs. But we need to go beyond Heroprenuership and tackle the systemic issues that prevent innovation to really be socially relevant, community beneficial and reflective of sustainable values. Dan Pallotta’s challenges to stagnant ‘charity’ solutions to systemic problems remain relevant today in the nonprofit world. Innovation for the social and common good goes beyond narrow approaches of voluntarism and philanthropy but also of businesses and governance.

Big problems needs innovative and cross-sector solutions! They also require innovation in the way we structure and legislate organizations that should fulfill triple bottom lines for social (people), environmental (planet) and economic (prosperity), but also for policies (policies) and sustainable impact (partnerships).  There are many example that already do this. One example of nonprofit social/environmental and technological  innovation is The Ocean CleanUp, an initiative started with a high school student, Boyan Slat. The objective of the organization(s) is to offer concrete, innovative and feasible solution to trash that accumulates “in 5 ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.” These solutions aim at attract nonprofit donations but also social/sustainable business investments and government commitments for the oceans, along technological advancements, volunteer engagement and social consciousness.

Donations for The Ocean CleanUp can be in US dollars through the The Ocean Cleanup North Pacific Foundationa 501(c)(3) not-for-profit foundation registered in the USA or in Euros through the Stichting The Ocean Cleanupan ANBI foundation registered in the Netherlands. Both foundations pursuing the same goal of the organization. An ambitious project of this kind requires to go beyond innovation into scaling and impact and sustainable impact. Learn more about this project and how the technological innovation and scientific discoveries work in parallel with government policies, human behaviors and business opportunities to make the world and our oceans prosperous for life to thrive for all.

35 Years of Nonprofit Management Education

Dr. Micheal O’Neill and Dr. Marco Tavanti, past and current MNA Program Directors

In 2018 the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA Program) at University of San Francisco celebrated its 35 years of existence since its foundation in 1983 by Dr. Michael O’Neill. The 35th MNA Anniversary Celebration of April 25th featured a panel reflecting on the accomplishments and challenges of nonprofit management education in the 21st Century. This video shares some of the highlights of the events and the valued reflections provided provided by our alumni Jeanne Bell (MNA ’01) and Alexa Cortez Culwell (MNA ’95).

The following are Dr. Marco Tavanti’s opening remarks to the April 25th Anniversary Celebrations

Thank you and welcome to this Panel Discussion and Celebration of the Master of Nonprofit Administration Program Celebration of its 35 Years of Excellence and Social Innovation. We are honored today to have a panel of experts – that will introduce shortly — and that will help us to understand some of the main challenge and opportunities in nonprofit education, community responsibility and capacity development. After an award ceremony we will continue our networking celebrations upstairs in the 5th floor AGORA where you can meet MNA alumni, friends and students while also viewing MNA Capstone Posters samples and Infographics from the annual Academic Global Immersion Program on Refugee. In the meantime (and to earn your drinks) you should also respond to the survey in front of you. On the table you can also find a card where you can formulate a question you may have for the panelists.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm, is a Jesuit method for teaching and learning embedded in our current MNA degree. It starts with observing the reality (seen it also through immersions and experiential learning), followed by the analysis (often through multidisciplinary perspectives and mixed methodologies to understand complex and unjust realities of marginalization), and the action into making the world a better place such as the USF slogan (Change the World from Here…). What was known in Latin America as VER, JULGAR, ACTUAR, has been integrated by impact evaluation and contextualization into our local/global and diverse communities. More recently this method included a new dimension CELEBRAR, to celebrate our accomplishments. Our celebration of the 35th anniversary of the MNA program reflects all these paradigms and invites us to take time to pause, observe, reflect, a celebrate the past and future of nonprofit management education.

In 1983, Dr. Michael O’Neill had the pioneering vision of designing a graduate degree to develop managerial and leadership capacity for nonprofit professionals. The MNA Program was accompanied by the research activities of the Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management (INOM) which followed other academic innovations such as the establishment of Nonprofit Academic Center Council (NACC) in 1981 and the creation of the Association of Voluntary Action Scholars later renamed as Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) in 1971. Dr. Michael O’Neill is known as the father of nonprofit management education (NME) that emerged as a field of study through these and other pioneering activities in which he was deeply involved.

While Dr. Michael O’Neill worked on developing the field of NME in the West Coast University of San Francisco, one of his colleague in the East Coast, Prof. Lester Salamon at the Washington DC Urban Institute (now at John Hopkins University) contributed to understand the scope and structure of the nonprofit sector. Today, nonprofit/nongovernmental/charities/philanthropic and voluntary institutions are major forces for good contributing to almost 6% of the American economy and 1/6 of the labor force in California. Internationally, the third sector institutions include a wider spectrum of organizations including hybrid social enterprises and social innovations solutions for the emerging world social economy. Our MNA students know about these developments and also know that both social and economic impact needs to be equally considered and measured to understand the true value of the sector.

In the last 35 years, the Program has generated 612 alumni in key leadership positions and influential roles for the advancement of the capacity, impact and sustainability of the sector.  We are honored today to have with us two of these MNA alumni, Alexa Cortes Culwell (MNA 95), Co-Founder of Open Impact and author of The Giving Code and the Giving Journey and Jeanne Bell (MNA ’01) who served until recently as CEO at Compass Point and now at Nonprofit Quarterly and in our MNA Advisory Board. Jeanne is also a well-known author of Nonprofit Sustainability other publications for the promotion of social impact with sustainable business practices among NPOs.

We are excited to engage in a panel conversation with Michael, Alexa and Jeanne on the past, present and future of nonprofits, its education and its capacity needs for effective leaders and organizations. Who can better represent our voice than one of our current MNA students, Sascha Rosemond (MNA ’19), who currently serves as Development and Donor Relations Assistant at the San Francisco Foundation.

Please join me to welcome Sasha, with Jeanne, Alexa and Michael to these conversations.


Nonprofit Career at your Doorsteps

The University of San Francisco (USF) School of Management, in cooperation with student volunteers, administrative and faculty members, have compiled a career resource guide for current students, alumni, and prospective students of the Master of Nonprofit Administration (MNA) program.  Resources have been provided through various sources including field research of philanthropic career opportunities, community outreach, faculty and student advisement, the 2017 GuideStar Nonprofit Compensation Report, and the 2017 University of San Francisco School of Management Graduate Career Services Career Resource Guide, which has been edited to fit the needs of students in the nonprofit program.  These resources are designed to provide students with internship, fellowship, and volunteer opportunities, networking events, compensation reports, interview tips, resume templates, and tools for job searching for those pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector.

This project is also meant to bridge any gaps that may exist between USF and alumni of the MNA program.  We would like to assist alumni in their own career paths or to engage alumni with current students to share their specialized advice from working in the field.  This guide (including the handbook and the compensation report) will be accessible to all currently enrolled students in the full time and part time program using the USF Canvas system within the MNA Depot, and it  will include all of the resources described above.  The handbook will also be posted to the USF MNA website and will be accessible to the public including alumni.  The compensation report has been purchased by the University of San Francisco School of Management from and is for internal usage only due to restrictions placed upon the distribution of the report by GuideStar.  Thus, this piece of the guide can only be accessed by currently enrolled students or those alumni who wish to physically visit USF to view the resource in person.  This resource cannot be shared electronically by email.

Events will be announced to current students through the MNA Depot and to alumni and current students who are members of the MNA LinkedIn group page which can be found here:  These events will include those hosted by USF and events hosted by outside organizations (typically occurring within the San Francisco Bay Area) for networking and volunteer opportunities.

The School of Management and the MNA Program at USF are excited to assist the growing needs of current students and alumni in their career development and professional endeavors in the philanthropic job market.

Download here the 2018 MNA Career Resource Guide and see resourceful links for successful nonprofit careers.



– Educating Social Sector Leaders Since 1983 –

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