MS in Nonprofit Leadership Program > Course Descriptions

NPLD Core Courses

NPLD 784 The Nonprofit Sector: Concepts and Theories:  Can you imagine a world without the vitality and diversity of the nonprofit sector?  What would it be like? Everything from health care to education, from serving the disadvantaged to protecting and restoring the environment, nonprofit organizations seem to have become an inseparable part of every aspect of our lives.  So often they are taken for granted that we seldom pause and reflect on the roles and functions of these vital organizations in our community.  This course will introduce you to the various roles that voluntary, philanthropic and nonprofit organizations play in American society.  It will cover the theory, size, scope and functions of the sector from multiple disciplinary perspectives including historical, political, economic, and social views.  The course also has a "hidden agenda."  Take this class to see and discover what this agenda is!

NPLD 786 Nonprofit Governance and Management:  This course is about "doing good and doing well."  It is designed to introduce you to the fundamental issues in accountability and governance and the administration and management in nonprofit organizations.  Through research and analysis, you will understand multiple structures of accountability and the various stakeholders in nonprofits; understand the duties and dynamics of boards of directors in conjunction with other mechanisms of governance (e.g. chief executive officers, advisory boards, etc.); develop an understanding of management techniques and leadership skills for enhancing the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.  You will be asked to think about the challenges of running nonprofit organizations in a comparative context, with cases drawn from both the U.S. and abroad. 

The emphasis of this course is on acquiring operational skills.  The course is designed for those who may have had years of experience managing other people and programs in the nonprofit sector but who want to develop a more systematic mastery of this challenge, as well as students from other sectors who aspire to a nonprofit leadership role.

NPLD 787 Leadership for the New Economy: This fall semester course is for individuals whose careers will call upon them to be visionary thinkers, sophisticated system thinkers and enlightened strategic thinkers.  It is for women and men who will take transformative leadership actions that can be successfully implemented by people and groups at all levels of organizations and social enterprises.  Recent events have shown that established leadership models need to be revitalized, given the complexities of the contemporary world.  Hence this course emphasizes the skills needed to engage in leadership acts relevant to the 21st century, competencies centered on building green technologies, creating sustainable energy, preserving the sanctity of water, fostering environmental-friendly policies, and constructing an economics predicated on principles of abundance rather than scarcity.  Case studies of Lincoln, Gandhi, and Mandela will highlight that many of the key leadership lessons required for this era were elegantly crafted by these giants of history in conditions of extreme adversity not unlike the challenges of today.  Key topics are decision making under conditions of uncertainty, building meaningful authority systems, using power creatively, harnessing the latent potential contained within conflicts and partnering with competitors and adversaries.

NPLD 789 Budgeting-Strategic Allocation of Financial Resources for Nonprofit Organizations: This spring semester financial budgeting course for nonprofit organizations will focus on strategic issues in nonprofit finance, specifically on capitalization strategies that position nonprofits for greater impact.  The foundation of these goals is understanding and applying appropriate budgeting principles and best practices in internal organizational systems.  Students will have exposure to a variety of budgeting scenarios including annual operating budgets and zero-based budgeting, program profitability, new facility planning and transformational growth. The class will utilize a variety of teaching tools: case studies, hands-on budget analysis and development, student applied study with a nonprofit organization, and guest speakers.  This course on financial budgeting is open to all graduate and professional school students who have a familiarity of the principles of nonprofit finance.

NPLD 790 Financial Management (cross listed as NPLD 590 for non NPLD students taking this course):
Economic analysis and financial accounting are like languages: fluency comes with practice. In-class review of case studies (including in-person discussions with the representatives of diverse agencies and organizations featured in the case studies) will enable students to test and develop their capacity for applying conceptual tools and analytical methods to sometimes messy and always complicated, real-life situations.

The course objective is to develop theoretical understanding, critical judgment, and practical skills for sensitive and effective engagement with financial and economic matters of significance. Students will learn: (a) different ways of thinking about the economic foundations of social policy, (b) the basic terminology, tools, and methods for analyzing the financial statements of a wide range of organizations, and (c) accounting procedures for evaluating business, government, and organizational operations, policies, and practices.

This course is at once macro and micro in its orientation: It provides a conceptual basis—derived from mainstream and alternative perspectives—for thinking about the economic dimensions of human development and social policy, and it introduces a set of core competencies for leadership and financial management of organizations, including conventional enterprises, consulting firms, research institutions, governmental agencies, philanthropies, cooperatives, and other third-sector organizations.

NPLD 792 Social Entrepreneurship:  This interdisciplinary course is taught in the spring semester.  Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative vision seeking to accomplish important public purposes through the creative and aggressive mobilization of people and resources.  Using academic theory and research on social entrepreneurship as a framework, student innovators learn to design, develop and lead social change organizations of their own invention.  Students turn their passion for changing the world into concrete plans for launching a venture.  Over the course of the semester we will cover a broad array of topics associated with social innovation and entrepreneurship, including defining the problem/opportunity, refining the mission/vision, developing market research and industry analysis, defining a financial and operating structure, assessing results and progress, and scaling an enterprise.  This course is neutral on sector.  Graduate students in any of Penn's graduate and professional schools who want to create social value through either nonprofit or for-profit ventures are invited to take the class and develop their ideas.  The class will expose students to the process of getting an organization-regardless of sector-off the ground and running.

While this is a class on innovation and entrepreneurship, students do not need to be committed to starting a venture upon graduation.  The skills and tools contained in the course have wide applicability in the workplace.  Being able to develop a coherent venture plan is great training for anyone who wants to work in government, philanthropy or the business sector funding or managing existing organizations.  The course attempts to convey a picture of what a well-considered and well-executed venture plan looks like with the goal of developing in students an appreciation for clear thinking in the pursuit of the creation of public value.

Students will work throughout the term on a plan for an organization that they devise, with assignments spread out throughout the term.  Elements of a venture plan will be drafted through multiple class assignments and students present formally and informally several times throughout the semester,receiving feedback from faculty, peers, social entrepreneurs and invited guests.  At the end of the term, students will assemble all the pieces they have worked on in the class, revise and hone these elements, and then put them into a coherent venture plan for their organization.  This class is ideal preparation for the Dell Social Innovation Challenge (, which the instructor founded and which awards funds to launch new student social ventures.  Entry into the Challenge is not required, however.

NPLD 796 Philanthropy and Fundraising Tools for Managers of Nonprofit Organizations (Cross listed with SWRK 798): This spring semester course will review the everyday tools that nonprofit managers and development officers need to raise funds from individuals and other sources of private philanthropy. Last year, Americans gave approximately $300 million to charitable organizations and 83% of it was from individual giving. The fundraising profession has created a body of knowledge in the past twenty years that can guide effective fundraising programs so that charitable organizations can support their mission. The class sessions will review the theory and practical techniques that development professionals use everyday in large and small organizations including annual giving, major gifts, planned giving, cultivation of donors, making your case for support, the Seven Faces of Philanthropy, special events and prospect research. There will also be discussions of philanthropic trends and current giving patterns. For those who are interested in nonprofit leadership and positions of influence, these will be critical tools to understand.  All NPL students who take this course must register under NPLD 796.

NPLD Courses

NPLD 510 Social Innovation: This is a class focused on understanding how innovation plays a central role in public problem solving.  We will explore how social entrepreneurs develop their ideas, define intended impact, market their solutions, understand competition and collaborate with other actors.  As the end of the course, students will have mastered a set of conceptual tools that will allow them to be effective problem solvers in diverse settings throughout their careers.  The course has five core objectives: 1.) to introduce students to the concepts and practices of social entrepreneurship; 2.) to introduce students to the components of a successful social enterprise; 3.) to equip students with the tools to be able to accurately identify and assess innovation and impact in social enterprises; 4.) to train students to view the world from a perspective of social innovation; and 5.) to encourage and empower students to develop their own innovative solutions to different social problems around the world.  This spring semester course is mostly geared for undergraduate juniors, seniors and other graduate and professional students not enrolled in the NPL Program as an introductory course to social innovation.

NPLD 580 Nonprofit Governing Boards: Good governance is often over-looked as a vital factor in nonprofit organizational success.  Understanding the unique challenges of governance is important for individuals seeking board roles and/or executive leadership opportunities in nonprofits.  The objectives of the fall course are: To arm students with knowledge of the fiduciary, strategic and generative responsibilities associated with nonprofit board governance; To provide students with an overview of diverse governance challenges that confront nonprofit organizations of different types and at different phases in their lifecycles; To prepare students to serve as either board or executive staff leaders of nonprofit organizations, with a full understanding of appropriate board/staff roles and relationships; and To give students the perspective and due diligence skills they will need to identify meaningful opportunities to exercise nonprofit board leadership in this and other communities.

NPLD 589 Ethics and the Pursuit of Social Impact:  Leaders of organizations must often make difficult decisions that pit the rights of one set of stakeholders against another.  Having multiple stakeholders or bottom-lines, brings with it challenges when conflicts arise, with the perennial question of whose rights/benefits prevail?  What trade-offs need to be made between multiple bottom lines?  Does the mission of the organization prevail over the privileges of employees/clients?  To what extent can large donors influence the mission of the organization?  What is an appropriate social return on investment?  This course will introduce the factors that influence moral conduct, the ethical issues that arise when pursuing social goals, and discuss he best ways to promote ethical conduct within such organizations.  The course will use specific case studies, real and hypothetical, to analyze a variety of ethical issues that arise [including finance, governance, accountability, fundraising, labor (paid and unpaid), client groups, and service provision] among the multiple stakeholders and balancing multiple bottom-lines.  This course is offered in the fall semester and will conclude by discussing ways that organizations can prevent and correct misconduct, develop a spirit of ethical behavior and institutionalizing ethical values in the organization's culture.

NPLD 591 Changemaking: Personal Traits and Professional Skills:  Over the past decade, researchers have identified some of the key skills that people need to succeed in their work and in their lives.  These are skills that anyone can develop with practice.  In this class, the instructor will teach three of the key skills: resilience (the ability to thrive in difficult times); creativity (the ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems); and productivity (the ability to make the best use of your time and find life balance).  This summer session course will take place over two weekends and a day workshop in between: one weekend in June; a one day workshop in July; and conclude with a weekend session in early August.  During the first weekend, you will learn the key skills.  Over the course of the summer, students will practice these skills to see and document significant improvement in important areas of their daily lives.  Finally, at the end of the summer, we will come back together to evaluate our progress, and talk about how to sustain these gains in our personal and professional lives.

NPLD 592 Collaboration Across Sectors:  Across the world, leaders of organizations from business, nonprofit and government sectors increasingly recognize the necessity of working across boundaries by developing various forms of collaboration.  Collaboration across sectors has become more prevelant, important and complicated.  This course will help graduate (and advanced undergraduate) students understand the theory, policy and practice of across-sector collaboration.  Students will learn the purposes collaborations may serve, the forms they take, what skills and techniques are required, and the steps involved in initiating, sustaining and evolving them.  Students will also learn the characteristics of the three sectors, the roles and contributions each can make to successful collaborations, and the competitive forces that are often at work in the collaborative process and their possible implications.

NPLD 783 Field Exercise in Social Impact Measurement: The twofold purpose of social impact measurement is to assess and improve the impact of nonprofit programs, and to inform grantmaking practice and effectiveness.  In addition to accounting for funds spent and reporting on the actual work carried out, social impact measurement is an essential learning opportunity for grantmaker and grantee.  However, choosing an appropriate methodology of measurement is critical.  This course will offer an overview of leading social impact measurement methodologies and tools, and an impact measurement field exercise. During the field exercise, student teams will assess one or more major grants made by local individual and institutional grantmakers using their standard system of measurement.  Teams will present the result of their assessment and offer feedback to improve each grantmaker’s measurement practices. Lectures will be complemented by class time devoted to off-site field activity and team meetings in this fall semester course. 

NPLD 785 Group Dynamics and Organizational Politics:  This intensely experiential course, offered in the fall semester, is designed for those providing group and institutional leadership at any level of a human enterprise, managing work groups, serving on special task forces, chairing committees, teaching in classrooms, conducting support groups, facilitating groups in clinical settings, etc.  Students will focus on two topics: 1.) an in-depth understanding of group dynamics while they are in action, and 2.) the organizational relationships between groups with power, groups that experience themselves as powerless and those caught in the middle.  With group and inter-group relations it is easy to see what went right or wrong in hindsight, or when observing from a distance, but tuning into these dynamics when caught up in them and taking constructive actions when it can have a meaningful impact, requires complex cognitive and emotional processing and the use of multiple logics simultaneously.  This educational format also explores the mysteries of counter-intuitive principles, such as “to grow, cut back,” and “to strengthen self, augment other,” are examined.  The experiential events that are at the center of this leaning occur over two weekends in the fall semester (Friday evening through to Sunday evening). 

NPLD 788 Strategic Thinking and Communication: Building Individual, Organizational and Sector Capacity:   This spring semester course is dedicated to helping participants become sophisticated strategic thinkers and communicators.  Resilient leaders engage in a continuous process of self-review and refocusing in which they consider the larger environment, engage emotionally and cognitively, and discover new ways to adapt and change.  Base on field theory and general systems theory, strategic thinking and communication is designed to strengthen students' leadership competencies to develop a "strategic stance" that supports the individual and organizational conditions for effective communication and planning as well as on-going learning and evaluation.  working with Simon and Agazarian's SAVI communication model as well as other diagnostic tools, students will be much more likely to understand/create messages that will get through accurately and effectively and understand as well as develop the knowledge and skills to engage their colleagues, their bosses, their direct reports and other stakeholders in critical goal-driven conversations.

The seminar will emphasize theory to practice and experiential learning.  Trying to understand strategic thinking and communication solely through reading and discussion is akin to learning to swim from a book.  In addition to theory and historical frameworks, students in the seminar will learn about their leadership styles, effective ways of communicating through learning SAVI and solving strategic issues.  The course will pay special attention to the intentional and hidden dynamics that support and sometimes undermine effective communication and strategic decision-making.  We will also engage with nonprofit leaders from the Philadelphia community hearing their narratives and how they have applied their own strategic thinking to advancing their organizational missions and the sector as a whole.

NPLD 793 Leadership and Social Change: This spring semester course explores the key elements of individual leadership, team leadership, and cross sector leadership in a highly participative format.  Through a series of individual assignments, class discussions, exercises, and simulations, students will explore and understand the potential for acts of leadership at every level (and in every organization) to create wealth and achieve positive social change.  The course is taught by the Executive Director of the Wharton Graduate Leadership Program and is open to graduate students throughout the university as well as Penn seniors.

NPLD 794 Tools and Concepts for Social Impact & Change:  This fall semester course consists of a menu of four (4) learning modules, each one structured as a two-day workshops spread out over at least one week. This is a core elective within the Nonprofit Leadership program and is open to students from all graduate programs. The workshops on contemporary themes, taught by faculty either from the University or distinguished exerts brought in from around the U.S., provide students with leadership aspirations opportunities for hands-on practical skill development.  All workshops provide an intensive interactive learning experience and are transferable to graduate students from the School of Social Policy & Practice as well as the other graduate and professional schools at the University of Pennsylvania. Students select three out of the menu of four (4) workshop titles to attend for full credit.  Undergraduate juniors and seniors are invited to enroll in this course.

NPLD 795 Skill Building for Social Impact:  This spring semester course consists of a menu of four (4) learning modules, each one structured as a two-day workshops spread out over at least one week. This core elective within the Nonprofit Leadership program is open to students from all graduate programs and is similar to NPLD 794 which is offered in the fall semester (the difference between the two courses is the workshops offered in each course are vastly different allowing students to take one or both courses to supplement their academic learning). The workshops on contemporary themes, taught by faculty either from the University or distinguished exerts brought in from around the U.S., provide students with leadership aspirations opportunities for hands-on practical skill development.  All workshops provide an intensive interactive learning experience and are transferable to graduate students from the School of Social Policy & Practice as well as the other graduate and professional schools at the University of Pennsylvania. Students select three out of the menu of four (4) workshop titles to attend for full credit. Starting in spring 2014, undergraduate juniors and seniors are invited to enroll in this course.

NPLD 797 Philanthropy and the City (Cross Listed with URBS 404):  This spring semester course will focus on how urban communities are shaped by the nonprofit sector and the billions of philanthropic dollars that fuel their work.  By bridging theory and practice, the class explores what dynamics are at play to deliver vital services or programs in health care, education, the arts, community development, and other issues.  The course will also focus on these important questions: (1) whose responsibility is the public good?  How is that responsibility shared by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors? and (2) given the responsibility for the public good, which individuals and groups make the decisions about how to serve the public good?  Students will consider these questions in an interdisciplinary context that will bring a historical and philosophical perspective to the examination of the values and institutions that characterize contemporary philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.  All NPL students who take this course must register under NPLD 797.