15.967 | Spring 2005 | Graduate

Managing and Volunteering In the Non-Profit Sector


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session

Course Description

The non-profit sector plays a key role in society and in the economy. Many goods and services, such as education and health care, are delivered by non-profits. Non-profits also play a central role in delivering charitable services of the kind that are often under-provided by the market. Non-profits also are active in political and public-policy arenas. Finally, non-profits are important in providing the glue - the social capital - that holds societies together and makes them work.

Starting, growing, and managing non-profits leads to challenges as complex as, and in some cases more complex than, the challenges facing the private sector. Non-profits need to identify their market, confront competitors, and manage their internal operations just as do firms. However, non-profits must address the needs of multiple constituencies, they must balance their values against the requirements of effective management, and they must attract and retain a skilled labor force without the financial resources that characterize much of the private sector.

This is a course intended to give students a broad overview of the management challenges of the non-profit sector. It is not a detailed management course but rather is aimed at students who will likely relate to non-profits in a variety of ways (on the boards, as volunteers, as fund-raisers, and occasionally as staff).

The course has three components: readings, cases, guest speakers, and student projects.

  • There will be case discussions in each class (except the final two, in which there will be student reports). Students should read and come prepared to discuss each case.
  • Many of the classes will also have distinguished visitors from a wide range of non-profits. These visitors will speak and interact with the class regarding their experiences that are relevant to the topic of that day (we will provide a background packet on each of the visitors’ institutions).
  • Teams of students will work with Boston-area non-profits over the course of the semester and then prepare a paper and make an oral presentation to the class. More details are provided below about this component.


Grading for the course is as follows:

Class Participation 40%
One Case Write-up: This is an individual assignment. Students select the case they want to write up. 20%
Team Project Write-up: This is a group assignment with the standard expectations regarding substantial participation by each student. 40%

Student Team Presentations

The Team Project

An important component of the course will be team projects. Each team (of about four students) will be assigned a Boston-area non-profit. The team projects may take one of two forms. In some cases the non-profit will have in mind an issue or challenge that they wish the team to address. In these cases the team will work with the non-profit in much the same way that teams in E-lab and Global E-lab work with firms. In other instances the non-profit is making itself available to the team as a site for study and learning. In these cases we have provided a set of questions, below, that should guide the team’s work. In both cases the team should make available to the non-profit a copy of its written report and also be prepared to meet with the non-profit’s staff to discuss the report should the organization request it.

A list of the organizations will be handed out to the class during the first meeting, and over the course of the first week, teams should form and should email to Paul Osterman their first three choices (ranked) along with any rationales that they care to attach. Assignments will be made in the second class.

With respect to the class, each team will be expected to hand in their report at the end of the semester and to also present their findings to the class in one of the two final sessions. About four weeks into the course, each team should make an appointment to meet with us to discuss their project.

Teams preparing general reports on an organization can be guided by the following questions:

  • What is the mission of the organization? Has it changed over time? How? Why?
  • What’s unique about the mission? Why should it be done by a non-profit organization?
  • What market do they serve? Who are their clients?
  • What is the strategy for carrying out this mission?
  • Is the organization effective? What metrics would you look at to answer this, and how does the organization itself judge its effectiveness?
  • Where does their budget come from?
  • Do the recipients of the services pay for them?
  • How do they market their services, and to whom?
  • What does the management structure look like?
  • How would you describe the culture of the organization, and how is it developed and maintained?
  • What is the HR strategy? Who do they hire, and how long do they stay?
  • What operational impediments do you see in reaching the mission of the organization?
  • What are the prospects of scaling up the services provided? How could that be done?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2005