November 2021 Faculty Spotlight
We talk to Associate Professor George Mitchell about his new appointment as director of the Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management (CNSM) including short- and long-term goals in this special Research Center-focused faculty spotlight.
Congratulations on being appointed director of the Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management! What made you decide to take on this role and its responsibilities?
The Center is an important vehicle for convening nonprofit stakeholders and engaging in community outreach, and I am honored to assume the directorship. We are very privileged to have an unusually large concentration of outstanding nonprofit and international NGO faculty at Baruch. Our nonprofit management concentration is ranked 13th nationally (https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-public-affairs-schools/nonprofit-management-rankings), significantly above schools such as Harvard and Columbia (tied for 26th). In terms of value for money, the Marxe School is probably the best in the country. So I’m very pleased to be able to further contribute to the quality and visibility of the school in this new role.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for the Center?
In the short-term, I’m organizing a series of exciting public events that I think will draw a broad audience. Next semester I will continue the tradition of Consulting Day, which has actually become a multi-day event connecting our faculty with nonprofit practitioners. My long-term focus is on a strategic planning process that is part of a CUNY-wide initiative to ensure ongoing sustainability. A lot of wonderful things have happened since the Center was originally founded, such as the transformative Marxe gift and the creation of the MIA program, and I think the strategic planning process provides an opportunity to think about how the Center can potentially evolve. I have a lot of ideas for the Center but the first step will be to solicit input from our faculty who are really the lifeblood of the Center. I’m very appreciative to have many supportive colleagues invested in the Center’s success. I am also very grateful to have strategy support from Amy Sherman, former Principal at Deloitte, and administrative assistance from Liliana Rosario, the Center’s Graduate Assistant. We’re already very busy getting ramped up, lining up events, and planning out the next couple years. It’s an exciting time!
What are the most pressing challenges of the nonprofit sector in a pandemic-focused world?
Across all sectors I think there is a high risk of fatigue that needs to be addressed. For many nonprofits the pandemic has brought about elevated levels of service demand, placing higher demands on staff. Many nonprofits will need to find new ways of ensuring a healthy and sustainable working environment for staff who have been under pressure for a sustained period. We’re also seeing increasing scrutiny of organizational workplace cultures during the pandemic, especially in the international nonprofit (NGO) sector, where staff have become much more vocal. I think this attention is a positive development, but one that does create challenges for organizations.
There is also a risk that the pandemic continues to absorb energy that would otherwise be directed toward other areas like generative leadership and strategy development. As the pandemic continues to draw our attention, it’s important not to lose sight of the future. Maybe COVID-19 or something like it will always be with us in one form or another, so how can the sector cope with those ongoing challenges while also preparing itself for future success and impact? I think nonprofits will continue to struggle to maintain that balance between keeping up with the current circumstances versus preparing for the future.
Finally, I think financial resilience is always a struggle for the sector. Mercifully, the pandemic has been met with a very strong fiscal response from government, and many foundations have stepped up to provide additional support to nonprofits. Nevertheless, the nonprofit sector has been hit hard and key indicators like employment continue to show a recovery unfolding at a disappointingly slow rate. And let’s not forget that economic activity tends to cycle. The current level of fiscal stimulus is probably not going to last forever, so what happens next? Are nonprofits building up reserves in preparation for the next cycle, or are they staying lean and hoping for the best? I hope that this experience helps policymakers and funders recognize the importance of a strong and resilient nonprofit sector.