UTK program making a big difference in the operation of nonprofit organizations
Started in 2012, the Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness represents the collective efforts of Alex Miller, William B. Stokely Chair of Business in the Haslam College, and Barry Goss, Founder of Pro2Serve, an Oak Ridge-based professional services firm.
A program launched more than a decade ago within the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UTK) Haslam College of Business and its Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is making a big difference in the operation of nonprofit organizations around the region while also bringing new perspectives on the nonprofit world to students and participating faculty.
Started in 2012, the Consortium for Social Enterprise Effectiveness (CSEE) represents the collective efforts of Alex Miller, William B. Stokely Chair of Business in the Haslam College, and Barry Goss, Founder of Pro2Serve, an Oak Ridge-based professional services firm. The 10-month certificate program is designed to strengthen social mission organizations and those who lead them.
For those who are well-acquainted with Miller and Goss, it should come as no surprise that each credits the other with being the reason that the program has been so successful. In fact, we believe it was the partnership Miller and Goss established that provided the all-important foundation for success. CSEE is totally funded by private donations, an effort that was spearheaded by Goss and supported by board members Dee Haslam, John Lawler, David Ragland, and Laurens Tullock.
The program and resulting curriculum were developed by Miller, and work with students in the program led to the idea of a similar regional effort. Miller teamed up with one of the students, Chris Martin of the Knoxville Leadership Foundation, to create the Alliance for Better Nonprofits (ABN) as a nonprofit assistance organization separate from CSEE. Today, ABN is a part of the United Way of Greater Knoxville.
After five years of working outside the university with local nonprofits, Miller launched a new university course named “Learning By Giving” where UTK students study how to evaluate nonprofits and make grants thoughtfully. They evaluate teams of local nonprofit agencies to decide which ones will be awarded funding to further their missions and award a total of $20,000 in grants each class, again thanks to private donations.
“It’s rare for business schools to be this engaged with the nonprofit sector,” says CSEE Program Manager Kitty Cornett. She’s worked alongside Miller since CSEE was started and adds, “The coursework is very applied and very relevant to the participants’ jobs.”
Miller stepped down as CSEE Director last summer, succeeded by Co-Directors Tim Munyon and David Gras. We recently had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the program in a discussion with Miller, Munyon, Gras, Cornett, Assistant Professor Jessica Jones, and two students – Sarah Moseley and Tanner White.
We came away from those conversations impressed with the impact CSEE has made. A total of 233 “students” from the nonprofit world – executive directors and other senior leaders in organizations focused on social missions – will have graduated from the program when the current cohort finishes on April 23. That total includes 35 “repeat customers” who Cornett says “have continually sent multiple employees through the program.” In addition, through the “Learning By Giving” classes, more than $130,000 in grants have been made to 32 nonprofit teams.
So, how does each component work?
- The CSEE program for nonprofit leaders involves four residency weekends – two in the fall and two in the spring – and assigned projects and readings in between. Topics covered during the sessions include nonprofit leadership, business acumen, and organizational strategy topics. The curriculum addresses problems most often holding nonprofits back – funding, metrics and performance, recruiting and retention, and building a high-performance culture. There is a modest tuition of $3,000 for participants, more or less “skin in the game” to show commitment. Graduates of CSEE also have the opportunity to participate in two alumni meetings each year.
- The “Learning By Giving” course is offered each fall semester, and students can attend from any discipline. During the semester, they learn how successful nonprofits work. Miller provides a simple framework of five Ms – mission, method, means, money, and metrics – and guides students in using the framework to evaluate nonprofit performance through a series of case studies. That’s all preparation for evaluating and deciding how to allocate funds to deserving nonprofits. However, it’s not that simple. First, the nonprofits applying for funding must team-up with at least one other organization on a joint proposal and also be a member of ABN. Second, the rules for the course require 100 percent consensus on the funding allocations, meaning the entire class must debate each proposal’s merits and agree. Last December, the class distributed $20,000 to: (1) Lakeway CASA ($6,000); (2) Special Growers and Maryville College ($3,600); (3) East Tennessee STEM and the Assisted Community Schools Unitive ($1,750); (4) Emerald Youth Foundation and Centro Hispano ($3,600); and (5) Bridge Services, Inc. and the Center for English ($5,050).
“We’re giving them (nonprofit leaders and our students) the knowledge they need to be more successful,” Munyon explains. “The consortium is a way to impact and transform a community.” Gras added that “social entrepreneurship (as a priority) is rare in a business college,” and Jones, who did her dissertation on impact investing and now studies social entrepreneurship, says, “I feel a lot of practical relevance to my research” through her work with CSEE.
NEXT: How the “Learning By Giving” course impacted students and how CSEE is a great example of public-private collaboration.