Carleton University, School of Public Policy and Administration

Leading Associations and Nonprofit Organizations: Challenges for
Senior Executives

Web Summary Version: Course for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership Program

Richard Paton        May 30, 2016 (Course is usually a one week course Monday to Friday)

Course Summary

If you want to learn how presidents and senior executives lead and manage associations and nonprofits, and prepare yourself for senior leadership roles in these organizations, this course is for you.

This course is a unique practical management course that will help participants to better understand the leadership challenges and strategies required of the executives of associations and nonprofit organizations.

Participants will review the challenges faced by these executives, and work through examples of the issues and choices that they face in leading their organizations. The course will draw upon the experiences of the course participants as well as the experience of the instructor, Richard Paton, who has worked for 19 years as the president of an association — doing so with references to cases developed by the instructor, and his text book, Leading Business Associations: Making Successful Transitions.

Background and Introduction

This is a course on managing nonprofit organizations and associations which is specifically designed for leaders and staff of these organizations, or those who aim to work in associations or nonprofits. The course will be valuable to those already in management positions or who aspire to take on management responsibilities at some time in their career with a nonprofit organization, or association. Since there are very few practical management courses in the public administration field, the course will also be valuable to anyone who is interested in understanding better what it takes to lead and manage an organization using associations and nonprofits as examples.

This course is designed to complement other courses in the program by focusing on the realities and challenges faced by executives/managers in association or non profit management. It is also designed to be a stand-alone course for staff currently working in business associations or nonprofits who need a course specifically tailored to leading these organizations. The course will draw on relevant management and association literature and cases where available. This will provide key concepts and a framework that will enable participants to assess management situations and develop effective strategies for managing associations.

Most importantly, the approach to this course will be to build on the rich experiences of participants to create a learning experience that is relevant and useful to their roles in nonprofit organizations.

Unique Focus of the Course

The unique characteristic of this course is that it is focused on executives leading associations and nonprofits. It deals with the realities, challenges, strategies and experiences of senior executives particularly presidents in leading nonprofit organizations.

The core of the course will be a framework and key concepts that can be utilized for association and nonprofit managers to assess their key relationships and challenges and develop strategies that will help to maximize their chances of success. This will also include the choices that senior executives can make in terms of their operating style. The lessons of the course are drawn from the experience of practitioners in association management. The experience of participants will also be an important contributor to the learning process.

Target Audience

This program will be designed largely for senior executives, managers and staff of associations and nonprofits who want to learn about leading and managing associations. The course will also be useful for those who work in government organizations who simply want to understand more about management and the strategies and approaches senior executives need to take in leading organizations, albeit in this case nonprofit organizations. The lessons learned from this course can be applied broadly to many types of organizations.

This course has been designed in a one week format so that it will be accessible to the participants of the Philanthropy and Not for Profit Program, other MPPA students, as well as staff of associations and nonprofits who want to take the course for professional development, without necessarily enrolling in the overall program.

Objectives and Value Proposition

The objectives and value proposition of the program are:

  1. To enhance the participants’ capabilities for leading or managing associations/nonprofits and/or to prepare them for a more senior role in their own associations.
  2. To provide a forum for learning from experienced association and non-profit staff.
  3. To share information on how to tackle key common issues facing the management of associations and nonprofits and share best practices in the key areas that are essential to association management.
  4. To provide networking opportunities for association and nonprofit staff to meet executives and staff in other nonprofits and associations and increase interchange and learning about management among diverse associations.
  5. To provide participants with a practical management course that can be applied to a variety of different organizations; or assist participants working in government to understand the role and challenges of associations and non profits. (Note most government organizations interface with nonprofits and vice versa.)

Course Materials

The course materials will mainly include cases developed by the professor, specifically for this course, as well as three books authored by the professor. These books draw on other literature on nonprofits and summarize their insights. Given the very short time for the course, the professor chose to focus the readings on these three texts and cases to enable participants to easily become acquainted with the key concepts and lessons of the course and apply them to realistic situations faced by leaders of associations and nonprofits.

The Politics of Management: Thinking Like a Manager. Richard Paton, 2013. This book provides some of the key management concepts and strategies that provide a foundation for approaching senior executive roles in associations or other organizations. This book has to be purchased directly from the professor but it can be also purchased as an electronic copy through

The second text book, Leading Business Associations: Making Successful Transition, deals with the experiences of 26 association presidents in doing their jobs. The book is available from the professor or can be purchased electronically from: Kobo Books or Amazon (Kindle)

R. Paton, What Makes an Effective Association: Benchmarking Associations for Performance (CSAE, 2015). This book is designed to assist students to evaluate an association/nonprofit and determine the key management challenges it faces. See assignment requirements.

Learning Approach

In the experience of the professor the most effective teaching approach for management courses involves a multifaceted approach including:

  • Some literature on managing associations drawn from the experiences of association/nonprofit presidents/executives.
  • Key concepts that help assess management situations; drawn from the general management literature.
  • The use of a framework that is central to the assessment of management situations.
  • The application of this framework and concepts to specific examples through class discussion, application to an association/nonprofit where students are working, cases, or a study of a manager.
  • Involvement of association leaders in 2-3classes in the program.
  • Active involvement of participants in discussion and cases and self reflection on management and leadership style and how they work in organizations by participants.

This combination of the textbook based on the experiences of association presidents, key concepts, class discussion of examples, cases, and the final assignment, all provide for a strong and unique learning experience. Participants are able to apply the lessons of the course to their organizations as well as their management situations and enhance their development.

Course Sessions

The course is organized into 10 sessions starting with some fundamental perspectives on management drawn from Richard Paton’s first book, The Politics of Management: Thinking Like a Manager. The course then covers the challenges of leading non profit organizations and associations and the key factors that are required for the effective performance of these organizations. This benchmarking discussion involving all the organizations in the class draws from Richard Paton’s book What Makes Effective Associations: Benchmarking for Performance.

The remainder of the course focuses on the main text book for the course, Leading Business Associations: Making Successful Transitions. The classes cover the key requirements for developing an agenda with staff, the board and chairman.

To highlight the key learnings of the course, the professor has developed three cases which are discussed in class and which involve assignments. Finally, three guest speakers are usually invited to class to provide participants with some examples how association and non profit leaders have navigated successfully in their positions.