Catholic Nonprofits, Send Your Employees Here

By Ed Cohen | Spring 2011

Printer Friendly

Imagine you’re an older person leaving the hospital for a stay—possibly permanent—in a nursing home. You are wheeled out the door and loaded into an ambulance for transport to the home.

Could there be a more depressing ride?

A group of employees of Volunteers of America came up with an alternative during a leadership education program for nonprofit organizations held at Mendoza a few years ago, recalls Tom Harvey, Mendoza’s McGuinness Director of Nonprofit Professional Development. He leads the College’s Nonprofit Administration team, which developed the program for Volunteers of America.

The VOA employees, who worked in senior health services, decided that unless an ambulance was necessary, they would transport seniors to their facility in a white stretch-limousine. Never a black one, which could be confused with a hearse. The white limo, which cost no more than an ambulance, is associated with new beginnings: weddings, parties, celebrations.

The limo idea was just one brainstorm to emerge from the VOA’s educational experience at Notre Dame, Harvey says. This summer, managers and executives of Catholic organizations from across the country will be looking for their own breakthroughs as they participate in the Catholic Leadership Program, the latest non-degree nonprofit executive program offered by Mendoza.

The 10-day certificate program will include sessions on finance, board governance and fund raising, along with issues of particular interest to Catholic groups, such as serving majority Latino populations and the differences between civil and canon law.

About 40 people are expected to attend the program, scheduled for July 11-21. Because the program is underwritten by a foundation’s anonymous gift, registration is only $475, meals included.

Harvey said the program’s nominal cost is essential because nonprofits struggle just to fund their core services, leaving nothing for staff to update or expand their knowledge.

“Many of the people in pastoral ministry were trained in theology or M.Div. (Master of Divinity),” he said. “They weren’t trained in organizational structures or accountability.”

Leland D. Nagel, executive director of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership, attended a pilot version of the program last summer, along with the organization’s board president. He recalled, in particular, a session on the immigration issue in the United States. The session described many different groups’ perspectives on the issue, their ties to church teaching, and why conflicts exist.

“It provided great insight into the issues,” Nagel said, “and into problem solving as well.”

The Catholic Home Missions subcommittee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has committed to sending 10 employees to this summer’s program from the missions’ 88 geographically remote or under-resourced dioceses, said Director David J. Suley. He said the missions are desperate for people with skills in leadership and planning.

The Notre Dame program is ideal, Suley said, because in areas such as Alaska there are few colleges, and church leaders are often separated by three- or four-hour drives. Online courses are not an option because only dial-up Internet connections exist.

“What is being offered by the Mendoza College of Business,” Suley said, “is a sign of hope. You are inviting the church of the poor into your program, which I think is awesome.”