Business Schools and Non-Profit Training

By Russell C. Pomeranz

This article was originally published in the ________ edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.


To the Editor:

In response to Mr. Henry Goldstein's article questioning John C. Whitehead's gift of $10-million to Harvard Business School to study non-profit management ("The Best Way to Use a $10-Million Gift to Improve How Charities Are Run," Opinion, October 19), I too have serious concerns. But I disagree with Mr. Goldstein's belief that such a program won't work before non-profit and for-profit organizations are ultimately too spiritually different for bottom-line-oriented business-school students to grasp.

My problem with the Harvard program is just the opposite. I do not think business-school students' being interested in running non-profits represents a contradiction in terms. They can and want to understand the mission of non-profit organization.

It is a common fallacy that a bottom-line management orientation, or, more appropriately, an understanding of all the tools an organization has at its disposal to be effectively run, precludes philanthropic sensitivity, as well as interest and understanding of a societal good. Furthermore, when these students do run non-profit organizations, they will have learned that effective management principles and commitment to organizational goals do not differ greatly between non-profit and for-profit organizations, or at least they shouldn't.

I therefore wonder what will be the added value of a non-profit business-school education, and, like Mr. Goldstein, have to ask whether the money could be more effectively spent elsewhere.

It is also necessary to challenge Mr. Goldstein's assertion that a non-profit mentality is to blame for the United Way scandal. There are for-profit leaders with a sense of societal responsibility, and there are non-profit leaders on ego trips intent on furthering their own careers. A greedy and unscrupulous person in a position of power is capable of anything, no matter what the organizational structure in which they are encased.