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By Sally Griffin

Nonprofit organizations provide so much to our communities. However, according to Forbes, over half of them are destined for failure. This is because most of them are started as a good cause, but with no idea of the key issues and challenges facing them.

Luckily, we have a program right here in our community that is designed to provide training to address these challenges. Red Rock Community College has launched Nonprofit Pathway, a certificate program for people who wish to launch or advance their career in the nonprofit sector.

“To have a program like this where people don’t just stumble their way into the sector, but instead think about it as a career, is exciting,” says Marla J. Williams, President and CEO of Community First Foundation, which partnered with Red Rocks to develop the program. “The Nonprofit Pathway is a unique program designed to help diversify and strengthen the nonprofit workforce by defining affordable career paths where few currently exist.”

The courses are designed to provide direct, hands-on participation in the community. It is a 16-credit certificate that can be completed in just one year. Participants focus on one course at a time. Courses are offered in the evenings to accommodate busy schedules. Each course is offered over an eight-week session and combines classroom and online learning. A 135-hour internship or capstone project offers students the opportunity to put their learning into practice.

Credits earned in this certificate can stand alone or can be transferred to meet major requirements towards a Bachelor of Public Services at the University of Colorado-Denver or a Bachelor of Human Services at Metro State University of Denver.

Classes include Intro to Nonprofit Organizations, Program Design and Evaluation, Building Support for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Financial Management, Conflict Resolution, and Internship or Capstone, providing hands-on field experience.

The program costs approximately $3,000, and students can complete the entire certificate or just take the courses they need. Scholarships are available specifically for those currently working in a nonprofit organization and interested in this program. These scholarships cover about half of tuition and fees for the total certificate.

Students are affiliated with a diverse group of organizations, including the Wheat Ridge-based Family Tree. A sample of other organizations include Foothills Animal Shelter, Christian Action Guild, Community Faith in Action, Denver Brass, Denver Indian Center, Environmental Learning for Kids, Evergreen Audubon, Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Animal-Assisted Therapy of Colorado, BIONIC History Colorado, Colorado Railroad Museum, Florence Crittendon Services, and 40W Arts.

The program is designed so students can practice what they have learned immediately by working with local nonprofit organizations. Colorado Homeless Families (CHF) partnered with the Building Financial Support course to address some needs around fundraising. This also provided students with a community-based learning experience. After learning about the organization, students went to work researching various databases of potential funding sources that would fit the organization’s criteria. They also updated the organization’s case statement or funding appeal.

Vicky Reier, CHF Board Vice-President, noted that working with the students provided an opportunity to reflect on the clarity of the organization’s current messaging around homelessness. This was a very valuable exercise for both the students and CHF.

Executive Director, Karen Allen, said, “I was really impressed with the students’ engagement and the incredible quality of instruction.”

This program is designed for current nonprofit employees, those just starting their careers and drawn to the nonprofit area, or those seeking to change careers, particularly after completing successful careers in other areas. This program can help translate skill sets learned elsewhere. Career changers can learn about what nonprofit organizations do, about how their skills can help nonprofits, and how to effectively serve on nonprofit boards. Having an active and well-informed board is vitally important to the success of any nonprofit. In the future, the program may offer more training focused on this board development.

As you can see, this program has great potential for making the community nonprofits that you support into stronger and more resilient organizations. Having the skills and knowledge in nonprofit operations, alongside talent and discipline-specific expertise, is necessary to keep nonprofit organizations from failing. This program will continue to evolve as more needs become evident. In the meantime, the following quotes show how well the program is working for current students:

“Being around students who are currently working in the non-profit sector has been encouraging and inspiring.”

“I feel as though I have learned so much from these classes. When I bring up ideas that were discussed in class, most coworkers haven’t heard of them.”

“The Intro to Nonprofit Organizations course has really helped me to gain a broader understanding of the nonprofit world, the role of a board, how to read a budget, and it also pushed me to complete a project that has already benefited my career!”

“I have already been able to motivate my board of directors to be more engaged with one another.”

If you are interested in knowing more about the nonprofit arena, or are looking for a career change that will lead you to a role in nonprofit leadership, you can go to www.rrcc.edu/nonprofit. You can also learn about the scholarships that are available for this program. The scholarships build capacity in middle-to-small size nonprofits by supporting professional development.

Tariana Navas-Nieves, Director of Cultural Affairs of Denver Arts and Venues, says “This program supports the development of leaders in the nonprofit sector, in particular, those that are engaging our community through arts, culture, and science.”