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Master of Nonprofit Management Celebrates 10 Years


By Sheryl E. Taylor

What is nonprofit management? Glad you asked.

In the simplest of terms, nonprofit management is maintaining or managing a not-for-profit organization’s labor and resources to successfully create something of value—a social outcome or cause, such as providing service for a community or group.

So, it comes as no surprise that UHD offers a graduate multidisciplinary program that prepares recent college graduates as well as mid- and senior-level administrators to manage and lead nonprofit organizations of all types.

As President Loren J. Blanchard has been known to say, it’s in our DNA. UHD prepares its students for success in varied opportunities for those who want to be effective in organizations and communities around them.

The Vision

During his tenure as UHD President, Dr. Bill Flores envisioned an opportunity for the University.

At the suggestion of former UHD Social Sciences Department Chair Dr. Adolfo Santos, Flores requested the approval of a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Houston System (UHS). Unfortunately, the request was not approved. Flores seized the opportunity to request approval of a nonprofit management degree program—an idea Flores credits to colleagues Santos and former Department of Social Sciences Chair Dr. David Branham, now Professor of Political Science and Nonprofit Management.

“The idea of the Master of Public Administration was a no-go, and it was suggested that we consider an alternative degree and method of delivery,” said Flores, who was serving as UHD President and Professor of Political Science and Nonprofitflores Management. “At the time, UHD had greatly expanded its work with local communities, governmental agencies, and nonprofits. We had (and still have) an active Center for Community Engagement (now Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning) with a broad advisory committee. So, we decided to develop a degree in nonprofit management, as there were only certificate programs in the Houston area.”

“The first order of business was to assemble an industry advisory committee to discuss the need for the nonprofit management program—which competencies should be woven into the courses, and what graduates should know and be able to perform.”

Executives were hired from relevant industries as “clinical faculty.” Per Flores, the Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management (MANPM) program was fortunate to hire Robert Sanborn, CEO of Children at Risk, and Brian Greene, CEO of the Houston Food Bank, as instructors. Both Sanborn and Greene also continue to serve as co-chairs of the MANPM Advisory Board. Cynthia Colbert, CEO of Catholic Charities of Houston-Galveston, joined Sanborn and Greene as an instructor.

The MANPM degree was approved. “In 2010, a Master’s in Nonprofit Management was not offered at any campuses in the UH System, and while many degree programs around the country connected nonprofit management to public administration and public affairs programs, nonprofit management as a discipline to itself was almost completely new in the U.S., especially in the South,” said Branham. As Director of the MANPM program and Interim Chair of Social Sciences, Branham created six courses.

He continued, “In creating the degree, it was important to develop strong connections to Houston’s nonprofit community and develop a program that had both academic and applied rigor.”

Then and Now

By the start of classes in the Fall of 2013, 13 students had enrolled in the program in three classes: leadership, management, and strategic planning. The first classes were initially taught in two separate colleges—the College of Business (now Marilyn Davies College of Business) and the College of Humanities & Social Sciences (CHSS). Today, the program is housed only in CHSS.

The entirely online program, created by UHD faculty in close collaboration with leaders from some of Houston’s most prominent nonprofit organizations, emphasizes hands-on experiences and teamwork to help students develop skills in the following areas: evaluation, assessment and strategic planning, entrepreneurship, program management, fund-raising, revenue generation and grant writing, human resources, marketing and social media, law and ethics, and leadership, board development, and team building.

“The advisory committee told us that they need to hire more women and future leaders reflecting the diversity of Houston and the country,” said Flores. “They also told us the program should be online to focus on working professionals. So, that has been our focus. Two-thirds of our students are women, and the vast majority of our students are Black and Latino. Most work full-time and graduate in two to three years, but some take longer as they often have to stop out for work and family.” 

In Retrospect: 10 Years of Academic Excellence

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the MANPM program has been a tremendous success. The program consistently ranks among the top five nonprofit graduate programs in the country. Current rankings include No. 3 “Best Online Nonprofit Management Programs” (intelligent.com), No. 3 in the nation for “Most Affordable Online Nonprofit Management Programs” (geteducated.com), and No. 7 for “Best Value Among Online Nonprofit Management Programs” (bestvalueschools.com).

Dr. David BranhamWhen asked what makes this program so relevant today, Branham offered, “Relevance is usually related to the success of your graduates. Our graduates, as a group, have been extremely successful. However, when you remember that nonprofit success is measured in positive impact instead of net profits, you understand that the program is doing a service, not only to its students, but to the entire community. From that perspective the relevance is massive. Being part of the team connected to that is very satisfying.”

Branham also noted that many students who had underperformed as undergraduates thrived in the program. “This was mainly because of their commitment to their nonprofit careers and their desire to be successful in their life calling,” he said. “Yet it is important to understand that attaining that success required a change in university culture to invite community partnerships; tenacity and stubbornness to carry on even when system hurdles would have been easier to quit; adjusting when goals were not attainable; and a strong commitment by a small group of intelligent, hardworking, intrinsically motivated people.”

“I cannot express enough how my education through the program has positively impacted my life,” said Susannah Mikulin, a 2019 graduate of the program. “I’m proud to say that since graduating, I have worked my way up through the nonprofit sector.” Mikulin now serves as Executive Director of the Fayette Community Foundation, which serves the 36-county rural region between Austin and Houston. “I hope prospective students can experience the value of UHD’s amazing professors and resources of this incredible program.”

No Surprises Here

Successful industry executives and professionals of Greater Houston nonprofits can shamelessly give credit to the program and are helping to attract new students from throughout Texas and the nation.

Graduates of the program include Brian Cosgrove, Executive Director, Last Chance Recovery Inc. of Greater Houston; Julie Voss, Regional VP, Susan G. Komen Houston; Shenaedra Tatum, Executive Director, Nixon Adult Day Center; Lisa Iparrea, Director of Client Services, West Houston Assistance Ministries; Beth Lamb, Executive Director, Key Center for Learning Differences; Ashley Jett, Executive Director,  TRI It for Life; and Allison McBryde, Grant Officer, PTSD Foundation of America.

Flores offers further insight: “I tell prospective students that in most graduate programs, you study theory and write research papers. Our program combines theory and practice with products you produce for a portfolio. You write a strategic plan with a nonprofit, you write a grant proposal with a nonprofit, and you develop a fundraising plan,” he said.

He continued, “In the Capstone course, you complete a 240-hour administrative leadership internship, where you work with nonprofit leaders on projects that contribute to the organization and add to your portfolio in areas such as leadership, strategic planning, program efficiency, HR, and fundraising. We teach you the skills you need now and the ability to grow in your profession. We prepare you for a career as a future leader in a nonprofit organization or agency. And, we have many success stories demonstrating that the program works.”

UHD alumni Anthony Powell (’20) has taken the next step in advancing his pursuit for a graduate degree. After earning a nonprofit management certificate in 2021, he is now looking forward to completing his master’s in the program. As part of the experiential experience in the program, Powell interned last Fall with Catholic Charities. This Spring, he’s interning at AmeriCorps through Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, where he assists veterans in securing basic needs.

“We learn from instructors who are in the industry … in real-time and not from a book,” said the 57-year-old, who works in UHD’s Shipping and Receiving and Mail Services Department. “The class assignments are life-changing and teach you how to treat people,” he added.

For more information on UHD’s Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management, visit the program’s webpage.

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.