The University of Iowa

Educating Future Nonprofit Leaders

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The University of Iowa offers over 30 certificates for students to choose from if they are interested in earning a credential along with their majors. Certificates allow students to explore topics that interest them in more depth and help them develop a specialty. Graduating with a certificate in addition to one’s degree may set an individual apart when it comes to landing a dream job.

Two of the UI certificates are nonprofit related: the Nonprofit Management Certificate and the Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication Certificate. Following much consideration and planning, it was decided to merge the two to better meet the needs and interests of students and to help them participate effectively in the growing world of nonprofits. Consequently, in the fall 2019 semester, the Nonprofit Leadership and Philanthropy Certificate will be offered.

As a result of the coursework and experiential activities of the new certificate, students will develop the business and leadership skills they’ll need as staff members, board members, and volunteers working to build and maintain successful nonprofit organizations. The certificate provides excellent academic opportunities through classroom instruction and projects, real-world experiences, and connection with nonprofit professionals. The core curriculum is based on best practices of the nonprofit field and the same ethical foundation as practicing nonprofit professionals.

Students currently enrolled in one of the two original certificates may finish the original curriculum or switch to the new certificate. Once students remaining in the original certificate programs have completed their requirements, those certificate programs will be discontinued.  Only the newly merged certificate will be available to students not previously enrolled.

The certificates have been popular with more than 100 students completing the Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication track and more than 200 students completing the Nonprofit Management track. Currently, 89 students are enrolled in the existing programs with 66 enrolled on campus and 23 enrolled online.

One exciting change is that the new certificate will be available both on campus and online. Previously, only the Nonprofit Management Certificate offered both options. The ability to earn the certificate online extends opportunities to more students, opens more career paths, and offers convenience. Learners who already hold a degree have the flexibility to complete the curriculum at an individualized pace. They may currently work in the nonprofit field and be interested in earning the certificate to advance their careers. For others, it can help them transition from the corporate field to the nonprofit field. 

For on-campus students, the certificate has been and remains open to all majors. Current students come from a range of disciplines including Enterprise Leadership, Public Health, English, and Sports and Recreation Management.

The certificate includes a 21-semester hour curriculum with required courses in Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness, Fundraising Fundamentals, and Nonprofit Ethics and Governance. Students can then take Nonprofit and Fundraising Communication and/or Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness II. Students are required to complete a field experience, which traditionally consists of a paid or unpaid internship with a nonprofit organization. To round out the 21 semester hours, students can choose from a dozen electives ranging from grant writing and organizational leadership to event planning and museum studies.

Completion of the certificate encourages the following student outcomes:

  1. Comprehension of the history and composition of nonprofit leadership and fundraising as a professional field
  2. A competence with skills necessary to become a nonprofit leader, fundraiser, and/or philanthropist
  3. A deeper understanding and appreciation of the role of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations in contemporary society

Students who enroll in the certificate have a desire to do good in the world. Although most have a desire for a career in the nonprofit sector, some students yearn to establish their own nonprofit one day. I remember one student, Caroline, telling me about her dream to form an arts organization in memory of her mother. Another student, dance major Leanna, wants to start her own nonprofit dance company following a professional dance career.

Other students like Hanna and Devon plan to work in the for-profit sector but are committed to their lifelong pursuit of community engagement. They want to make an impact by serving on boards and committees. Students like them will influence corporate giving and engagement where they work. They will take what they’ve learned to enhance their ability to be effective community citizens.

As someone who was a development director for many years, I get especially excited to know that I have students who will be sitting around board room tables throughout the country, supporting the professional staff with ideas and solutions that are based in best practices. Having taken part in some foundational training in the profession of nonprofit management, ethics, communications, and fundraising, they will be well prepared. As future leaders, they will be invaluable as they give of their time, talent, and treasure.

Graduates have found that the completion of a certificate in philanthropy or nonprofit management on a resume has caught the attention of potential employers. Employers are interested in what students have gained in the focus area and are impressed by the internships they have completed with community partners.

Graduates of the certificate in Fundraising and Philanthropy Communication have secured exciting positions following graduation. KayLynn Harris, 2019, is a communication coordinator at Feeding America. Located in Chicago, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country. As food insecurity rates remain at the highest levels ever, the Feeding America network of food banks has risen to meet the need. 

Cindy Garcia, 2018, is a communication associate at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa. Located in Des Moines, the ACLU of Iowa is a state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union and is a non-partisan organization that fights to advance civil liberties and uphold the Iowa and U.S. Constitution. 

Julia Erickson, 2016, is a development coordinator at CommUnity in Iowa City. CommUnity Crisis Services and Food Bank is a volunteer-driven organization that provides immediate and nonjudgmental support for individuals facing emotional, food, and financial crisis. CommUnity (previously called the Crisis Center) has a history that dates back to the 1960s.

KayLynn, Cindy, and Julia are among the many students who have gained real-life, hands-on experience. In the past, students have created a variety of materials in the classroom for community partners, including promotional videos, cases for support documentation, branding materials, and much more. One class even focuses on researching grant opportunities for its nonprofit community partners.

As we prepare to launch the newly formed and enhanced certificate in Nonprofit Leadership and Philanthropy, we are excited to see growth in enrollment, more community partners, and graduates who are having an impact on nonprofits throughout the country. The certificate is co-directed by myself and Dr. Jill Smith and collaboratively administered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship in the Tippie College of Business. The certificate is awarded by University College.

We are interested in hearing from you! If you would like to be a community partner in one of our classes, host a student intern, or learn more about earning the certificate yourself, drop us an email at