Since 1998, NPT and its editor-in-chief Paul Clolery announce their view of the 50 individuals who contributed the most to advancing the nonprofit community in the previous 12 months in their list, NPT Power & Influence Top 50.I follow the list religiously and respect the editor as a fair and objective journalist. Just so we get this out of the way, the Kinetic Chair, Adrian Sargeant — who was on the list last year — didn’t make it this year. I will kid Paul about it and he will ignore me like he always does, but there is something more important than Adrian not making the list.The list has a glaring absence of the academic community.I did my own count and could only identify two individuals who were academically based. I am not naive about the fact that others do research and certainly the list cites many who, from one perspective or another, are advancing fundraising through research. Bill McGinly at AHP comes to mind. But the fact remains, with Adrian’s absence, no one from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University made the list. No one from one of their largest projects, Giving USA, made the list. Please don’t hear criticism of NPT or the Center or Giving USA. Rather, this is a concern you have heard from repeatedly from me about the lack of serious work being done in the academic world.
But here is my criticism . . . (you knew it was going to come, didn’t you?) There is a place for anecdotal experience and stories. You know I am not bashful about telling them. But with all due respect to those with good stories and successful experiences (I count myself in that group), it is time we start building a body of knowledge on which to base our teaching.Unfortunately, AHP has to develop their own. In fairness, maybe they are using academic support. Clearly AFP doesn’t meet the needs of their members and university fundraisers are building their body of knowledge within CASE. All of this is good, but as a practitioner who has personally worked with over 500 nonprofits, I find there is an advantage in having a broad base of knowledge and then honing those skills based on it for the discipline you are serving instead of the reverse.How many doctors are taught first how to do a heart transplant before learning to take temperature? How many lawyers are first taught how to bring a class action suit before understanding the common law? Even as a teacher, you need to understand the basis and history of education. But in fundraising, nonprofit management, or philanthropy, we glide over that quickly and move on to the practical.Nonprofit programs frequently celebrate that they are taught by practitioners rather than academics. We all get the point. Non-profits are a unique kind of animal. “Gee, we wouldn’t want to have some basis theory influence the behavior of future nonprofit managers.” This behavior is particularly egregious in the field of fundraising. “Let’s get practitioners.”Even worse: out of the 150 nonprofit or philanthropy programs, two thirds don’t require a course in fundraising. Can you believe that? We are putting out master degree graduates who are believed to be good managers and they don’t even have a philosophy course in fundraising! (Oh, you didn’t know there was a philosophy to fundraising?)A client in Iowa gave me a brochure about a master degree in nonprofits and philanthropy at one of their state universities. They offer one course in fundraising: Grantsmanship. Get ready . . .You aren’t going to believe this. Guess which department is teaching the course in Getting Grants? (See my blog on the difference between Grants and Gifts).If you guessed the English department, you were right. Certainly our educational system has failed us in building a literate body (I used to have a senior employee of mine who could not put together a grammatically correct sentence. He is no longer with us), but if fundraising or nonprofit management students need improved English skills, then this should be a remedial upgrade. Maybe I’m speaking out of line. Perhaps they have a great English professor who knows grants. By the way, if you read my blog you know there is no difference between a grant and gift. I’ll bet the English prof doesn’t know that.I hear you, I hear you. Bob, wrap this up.You all know my interest in growing philanthropy and if you trust NPT, it ain’t growing because of innovation at the academic level.This year, they recognized 15 trade associations, 14 Foundations, four Philanthropy Advocacy groups, two educational institutions, one government, and 14 direct service organizations. The editor makes it clear they were trying to highlight tech-oriented groups. He accomplished his task.Congratulations to NonProfit Times’ 50 most powerful and influential people in the nonprofit tech-oriented arena. Thanks to NPT for taking time to assemble the list and bringing it to our attention.