Harvard business alumni offer insight for non-profits

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The CEOs and directors of state non-profits face many challenges in this era of tight money, government cutbacks and stingier donors. A lucky few are able to tap into the wisdom flowing from that temple of management knowledge, the Harvard Business School.

Four Michigan non-profit leaders participated in the 14th annual Strategic Perspectives for Non-Profit Management (SPNM) Scholarship sponsored by the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan. They are Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services; Ryan Hertz, executive director of the South Oakland Shelter; Jason Lee, executive director of Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP); and Rick Loewenstein, CEO of JARC, a provider of community-based Jewish residential services.

The four scholarship recipients attended Strategic Perspectives for Non-Profit Management, an intensive six-day course presented each summer at the Harvard Business School. This year's session ended July 21. The scholarship winners are selected through a nomination process for candidates who exemplify "dedication, commitment and pursuit of excellence" in the non-profit sector.

Participant Jason Lee was enthusiastic about the benefits of the program.

"The program was outstanding," he said. "The tools I took away include logic models and the theory of change. They were tremendous in terms of helping us shape and structure the organization that I currently run. I've begun to implement those tools here at the office this week, beginning with conversations with my staff and scheduling opportunities to discuss it with my board of directors."

The program takes into account the knowledge and expertise these leaders already possess and sharing that wisdom with each other and the program has become a big part of the process.

Richard Shapack, president of the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan and a Harvard MBA in 1971, says the program is a partnership, not just a course.

"We did not want to come across as, 'We're here from Harvard to tell you what to do,'" he says. "They're the people who are knowledgeable about their field. Our approach was 'How can we help you?'"

As of this year, 35 non-profit leaders have participated in the program. The first SPNM scholarship was awarded in 1999 to Cameron Hosner, then CEO of Vista Maria and currently CEO of Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation.

The 2011 scholarship recipients were Penny Bailer of City Year Detroit, Kyle Caldwell of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Michael Tyson of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work, and Kari Walker of the Guidance Center.

"These 35 non-profit CEOs are making an impact on their community," Shapack says. "They're really outstanding people. It's commonly believed on the for-profit side that the 'do-gooders' on the non-profit side couldn't make it in the 'real world' and that's why they're over there. When you meet these people you realize they could make it anywhere. The biggest difference in the non-profit people is that they want to be involved in helping the less fortunate."

Shapack says that the networking and mutual support component of the program has evolved and grown.

"After a few years, I said to some of them, 'Would it be helpful to get the whole group (of present and past participants) together?' I got a resounding yes," he says. "The old characterization that the loneliest person in an organization is the CEO is very true. We now meet four or five times a year with that group."

Shapack sees a bright future for the program and hopes its success can be emulated by others, perhaps even internationally.

"I think what's been created here has the potential to be very valuable for communities around the country and even around the world. Give these capable, dedicated people the tools to help them manage at a high level."

Major funding for SPNM scholarships is provided through proceeds from the Harvard Business School Club of Michigan's annual Business Leader of the Year dinner event. This year's honoree is Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System. The event will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 22, at the Atheneum in Detroit. Sponsorship and ticket inquiries should be directed to Maria Chasins, info@hbsmi.org.

Published: Tue, Aug 7, 2012