Article Review: Street Credentials and Management Backgrounds: Careers of Nonprofit Executives in an Evolving Sector

The second article for review that I have chosen is David F. Suarez’s, Street credentials and management backgrounds: Careers of nonprofit executives in an evolving sector. This article examines leadership and management qualifications within the nonprofit sector and then compares and contrasts them with the for profit sector. Furthermore, the author has employed a study of 200 nonprofit executives in the San Francisco area to develop original statistics on the educational and work experience of these nonprofit executives. Combining his original research, with existing data, Mr. Suarez hypothesizes argues that nonprofit leaders assume their position not from their educational backgrounds, but from their work experience.

This writer will be reviewing Mr. Suarez’s findings, and then comparing Mr. Suarez’s research with that of other researchers who have undertaken similar studies. Furthermore, this writer will address Mr. Suarez research, his ideas regarding current nonprofit leadership and his assessment of the future of nonprofit leadership.

Mr. Suarez in his article Street credentials and management backgrounds: Careers of nonprofit executives in an evolving sector argues that current research indicates a forthcoming shortage of executive leadership in many fields, to include the nonprofit sector as a result of the baby boomers leaving the employment sector. Furthermore, he argues their lacks an established methodology for developing nonprofit leaders within the industry and as a result, many nonprofit managers have only on the job experience. To support his argument that the nonprofit management field lacks experience, Mr. Suarez has developed a survey that was administered by six researchers who conducted interviews with 200 nonprofit executives. These interviews provided the researchers with the educational and work experience and certain general characteristics of each interviewee such as gender, race and age.

Building on this research, Mr. Suarez compares this data with existing data of nonprofit managerial composition, and then contrasts this data with known statistics of the educational levels for the for-profit community. Using these two sets of statistics, Mr. Suarez argues that the nonprofit director’s community lacks sufficient education and management expertise. And, the primary source of education for the nonprofit community is on the job experience and not educational experience.

This article was found in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, December 2009, DOI:10.1177/0899764009350370. This article is a peer reviewed article. While the topic matter is timely, the research and the arguments of Mr. Suarez are lacking. Mr. Suarez uses a large argument that is has apparent holes in it and then tries to frame his critique around his flawed argument. The nonprofit community is an extremely diverse community, and it’s complexity far exceeds the for-profit community. To try and pigeonhole the community and then use a single argument to criticize the industry leadership, demonstrates a failure to understand the full scope of the community itself.

In reviewing this article, this writer finds several statements, which are presented as fact, to be of questionable basis. These statements are presented as reality, when in effect they are interpretations of data as predisposed by the researcher who has failed to interpet for changing market conditions. For example, Suarez’s statement on page 697, “baby boomers and activist leaders from the social movement era are starting to retire, surveys portend an impending leadership shortage”. Suarez offers no citations for this statement which is simply a half truth. True, baby boomers are retiring and at a rate of 10,000 per day (Woodstruff, 2011). Other studies have indicated that nonprofit executives are nearing retirement age (Mottner & Wymer, 2011). However, studies have indicated that to do the ongoing economic maelstrom affecting the known industrial world, workers eligible for retirement may in fact delay retirement and insist on working longer (American Association of Retired Persons, 2011; Orszag, 2009).

Mr. Suarez did undertake a survey of 200 local nonprofits in his area and from this research he has made several deductions. However, this research has its own set of flaws. The research did not take into consideration the wide variety of nonprofits and the distinct difference between the types of nonprofits. For example, citing his Table 4, Mr. Suarez reports that directors of nonprofit health services like a hospital had a significantly higher percentage of management backgrounds than did directors of other nonprofits.

The flaw in this summation is simple. A director of a nonprofit hospital has far more duties and responsibilities than does the director of the volunteer fire department, of a church, or of a Boy Scout troop. So, by its very nature of the job itself, the director of the hospital should have the skill set which includes education and experience inherit to running such a large and complex organization. Here, on the job training would not suffice, which Mr. Suarez argues is how most nonprofit leaders become leaders. However, for the director of the volunteer firefighter, on the job training may be sufficient as the requirements and duties are far less than managing a hospital.

A more accurate study would have included gross revenues of the nonprofits. A volunteer fire department that raises $100,000.00 a year in donations is very different than a hospital or any other nonprofit that grosses $100,000.000 a year (figure simply for argument purposes). So, why then count their director’s experience and education levels within the same statistical set? Had Suarez included nonprofit revenue’s or mission purposes been considered a very different set of outcomes could have been extrapolated. For example, Suarez may have found that 100% of nonprofit hospital directors have relative management experience combined with an advanced education. A very different picture and statistic is then presented. However, Suarez using this flawed research presents a more troublesome statement on pg 701 “Beyond the fact that management credentials are rare in the nonprofit sector”. This statement is not supported by any citations, and instead, supported by Suarez’s limited and flawed research study.

Furthermore, Mr. Suarez’s original research provides no new information when compared with studies conducted on a national scale. Mr. Suarez includes a table (Table 1) comparing the statistical comparisons of his research with that of a national study. There are very minor differences statistical differences between the two studies. Mr. Suarez even admits this on page 699 with the statement “the similarities for leaders are striking”.

Oddly enough, Mr. Suarez fails to discuss the rise of the nonprofit curriculum within academic circles. Nonprofit management is a new field. Traditional business schools have been reluctant to expand their academic programs to embrace the need of the field (Mottner & Wynn, 2011). Only within the last 25 years have Universities begun developing specific nonprofit management curriculums (Cargo, 2000). Whereas traditional programs such as law and business have been around for hundreds of years in the United States and of course longer abroad.

Nonprofit management education is a product primarily of the last two decades. In 2006, there were a documented 426 nonprofit educational programs. An increase of almost 100% from 1996. Nonprofit education within the Universities or colleges of America has been described as phenomenon of the last two decades (Mirabella, 2997).

It will take time for the graduates of nonprofit programs to begin moving into the industry and then begin establishing themselves as the organization leaders or forming up their own nonprofits. Until then, we will have to depend on people like Patty Webster (Amazon Promise), a former tour guide, now turned medical provider. And Greg Mortenson (Central Asia Institute), former nurse, turned school builder, to lead the way.

Overall, this article is not very useful to the industry. Mr. Suarez has provided no new research or data to the industry. He has simply conducted a study that reinforces national statistics that have already been published. True, many nonprofit leaders do not have advanced educations within the management field, or they have an education background very different than what they are currently doing, which is managing a nonprofit (Suarez, 2010).

This writer has reviewed and discussed Street credentials and management backgrounds: Careers of nonprofit executives in an evolving sector. As a source of informed knowledge about the future of the industry and its executives with respects to their education and work experiences, I would have to recommend other materials. I found Mr. Suarez arguments and deductions to be flawed and which once recognized, were difficult to overcome. His failure to discuss the current academic efforts at enhancing and developing the next generation of leaders was puzzling.

The nonprofit sector, like all other sectors is currently undergoing a significant shakeup as a result of the changing American economic situation. Jobs are becoming scare and workers are becoming more plentiful. For anyone to remain uber-competitive in any industry in this day and age will have to undertake a number of measures to remain competitive, to include an advanced education. The nonprofit industry is no exception and the leaders of tomorrow are in class today.

American Association of Retired Persons. (2011). Most Hawaii adults 50+ would work longer if the economy does not improve.

Cargo, R (2000). Made for each other: Nonprofit management education, online technology and libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 26(1), 15-20.

Mirabella, R (2007). University-based educational programs in nonprofit management and philanthropic studies: A 10-year review and projections of future trends. Nonprofit and Volunatry Sector Quarterly. 36:11s DOI:10.1177/0899764007305051.

Mottner, S., Wymer, W. (2011). Nonprofit Education: Course Offerings and Perceptions in Accredited U.S. Business Schools, Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing.

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Orszag, Peter (2009). Why are older workers working longer. Washington D.C: The White House.

Suarez, David. (2009). Street credentials and management backgrounds: Careers of nonprofit executives in an evolving sector. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 12, 696-716.

Woodstruff, J (Narrator). (2011). PBS Newshour [Television series]. [With Ted Fishman, Nicholas Eberstadt] Arlington Va: Public Broadcasting Service.

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