10 Years Strong: The Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies

The Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies grew out of a university-wide strategic planning initiative in the fall of 2007 where faculty and staff could propose new and bold ideas.  The original vision, facilitated by Dr. Kurt Thurmaier in the Department Public Administration, was driven by a need for nonprofit and non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders generally while offering a unique interdisciplinary approach to the training of those leaders. In spring 2008, the first working groups formed to shape what a new center and programs could look like at NIU.  These NIU faculty and nonprofit/NGO leaders worked through the 2008-2009 academic year. The Center’s original vision, as it continues today, is focused on interdisciplinary educational programs, community engagement, domestic and international nonprofits/NGOs, and applied and academic research. In the 2009-2010 academic year, the curriculum for the undergraduate major in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement was developed and sent through the college and university review process. At the same time, the college searched for the first Center Director.

By spring 2010, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) approved the new interdisciplinary center, the Center for NGO Leadership and Development (NGOLD).  In fall 2010, the inaugural director of NGOLD, Dr. Judith Hermanson, was hired along with the first faculty member, Dr. Alicia Schatteman, with a joint appointment in the Department of Public Administration. Dr. Hermanson worked to create the bylaws that govern the center and to implement the curricular design approved by the university, as well as to create contacts with the regional nonprofit and NGO community. In spring 2011, the first contract majors in Community Leadership and Civic Engagement graduated from the center while awaiting IBHE approval of the proposed interdisciplinary major, which came in August 2011.

Dr. Nancy Castle began teaching for the Center in 2011, became acting director, and then was hired as the permanent director in 2012. NGOLD formally became part of the new School of Public and Global Affairs in spring 2012, an entity that now includes the Departments of Political Science, Public Administration, and Economics; and the Center for Governmental Studies.  Under Dr. Castle’s leadership, NGOLD hired new faculty, developed its outreach mission, and expanded its academic programs adding both a minor and an undergraduate certificate. In 2012, Dr. Mark Schuller became the second faculty hired in the Center, with a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology.  In 2013, the third faculty was hired, Dr. Laura Heideman, with a joint appointment in the Department of Sociology.  Ben Bingle was also hired as the Center’s Outreach Coordinator in 2012, a position he held until he became the first Director of the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership in 2016.  Julie Ann O’Connell, a former graduate assistant in the Center, became the Center’s Outreach Coordinator following Ben’s departure.

Upon Castle’s retirement, Dr. Anne Hanley served as interim director from early 2016 to summer 2017. During this time, the Center also changed its name to the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies and the name of the major to Nonprofit and NGO Studies (NNGO).

Dr. Chris Einolf became the Center’s director in summer 2017; under his leadership, the Center went through the Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) to have the Center’s foundational class, NNGO 100 (Community Leadership and Civic Engagement)  approved as an interdisciplinary social/behavioral science course for community colleges.

Dr. Einolf was succeeded by Dr. Alicia Schatteman, who became Acting Director on July 1, 2019 and then Director on July 1, 2020.  Julie Ann O’Connell became the Assistant Director of the Center in August 2019.  Beginning in January 2020, the Center partnered with Thrive Collaborative Center in Aurora to offer coaching services to nonprofit organizations in Aurora.  In 2020, the Center became the administrative home of the Global Studies minor.  In August 2020, the Center launched 40TUDE NONPROFIT, which is a student consulting team who will provide nonprofits impacted by COVID19 with pro-bono consulting.

The Center is a proud member of the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC), a professional organization which serves as both a curricular guide for Centers as well as strong voice advancing the education, research, and practice of the study of the nonprofit/nongovernmental sector, philanthropy, and voluntary actions.  In fall 2019, the first NNGO students were inducted into the NACC Honor Society, Nu Lambda Mu.

NNGO (formerly Community Leadership and Civic Engagement) students working the Communiversity Garden project

In terms of the Center’s three pillars (education, engagement, and research), the Center has had many achievements over the past 10 years.  Since its inception, approximately 250 majors (both B.A. and B.S. students), minors, and certificate students have graduated from the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies. Graduates of the NNGO program have gone into satisfying careers and many have pursued graduate school and law school.  NNGO students, through service-learning and community engagement projects in the program, have assisted with dozens of community and university projects, such as spearheading the creation of the Communiversity Gardens on campus.  NNGO students are able to have international NGO experience through study abroad opportunities in Europe and Africa.  Students have also been recognized for their achievements; for example, such as three Newman Civic Fellows by Campus Compact for outstanding community engagement.

Concerning community engagement, the Center has strong relationships with many regional and national nonprofit associations but especially the DeKalb County Community Foundation and its affiliated program, the DeKalb County Nonprofit Partnership (DCNP).  Since 2014, the Center has partnered with DCNP and NIU’s Career Services on a nonprofit internship program supported by the Douglas C. and Lynn M. Roberts Family Foundation. This innovative partnership gives students valuable work experience in the nonprofit sector while developing a local leadership pipeline and building the capacity of participating nonprofit organizations.  Another component of the Center’s partnership with the DCNP is the research for and publication of a series of DeKalb County Nonprofit Studies.  The first comprehensive report was published in 2015, the second in 2018, and a third will be done in fall 2020.  This collaboration is also funded by the Roberts Family Foundation. Faculty and staff engage with nonprofits and NGOs in many ways including board leadership, volunteering, consulting, and volunteer/employee recruitment.  Regional nonprofit representatives also serve on the Center’s Advisory Group, offering input into the Center’s engagement activities, research, and curriculum.

The Center is governed by a group of faculty and staff Associates. These NIU faculty and staff play an important role in advancing the Center for Nonprofit and NGO Studies’ mission through their work on committees, by partnering on events and contibuting to the Center’s growth. Many associates also teach interdisciplinary courses that go toward completion of the Nonprofit and NGO Studies major and minor as well as the Certificate of Undergraduate Study in Nonprofit and NGO Studies.  Currently, the Associates and Joint Faculty represent 16 units and five colleges across the university.

The Center has had many achievements as a center for research.  The Center’s joint faculty and faculty associates have published a multitude of articles, books, and reports both domestically and internationally over the past 10 years.  Their research has been recognized with numerous awards and fellowships. In 2013, the Center co-hosted a conference “The Future of NGO Studies” in Chicago, presented by the interest group on NGOs and Nonprofits in the American Anthropological Association. Research on nonprofits and NGOs by the Center’s faculty is incredibly rich and diverse, with a wide variety of methodologies and topics, from the theoretical to the applied, from local to international, from qualitative to ethnographic.

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