Faculty & Staff Achievements

NONPROFIT QUARTERLY Features Professor Michael O’Neill

by Gene Thomas

Professor Michael O'Neill is the founder of the Master’s Degree Program in Nonprofit Management at what is now the School of Management at the University of San Francisco.  Begun in 1983, ours is recognized as the first such program in higher education in the United States.  Since that time, the number of programs of this type in the United States has grown to roughly 180, and encompasses both undergraduate and doctoral levels.

Dr. O’Neill is not only a pioneer in the field, but remains both a very active teacher and a respected leader in the field.  He was recently interviewed by NONPROFIT QUARTERLY, and asked to comment on the state of this academic concentration.

His analysis includes a very interesting historical note about the genesis of the field, and the process of academic inclusion that first created business schools in higher education, and more recently programs of nonprofit management.  As the School of Business and Professional Studies has changed its name to The School of Management — with the inclusiveness that the new name represents — his observations have a particular cogency:

NQ: Why do you think that such rapid growth has occurred?

O’Neill: In 2005 I wrote an article for Nonprofit Management and Leadership, in which I discussed why the movement had taken place at this time and why it had grown. By way of analogy, I looked at the beginnings of business management education and government management education.

Business education started in the 1880s at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and public administration programs started in the 1920s at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and the University of Southern California.

These programs arose after great growth in the business and government sectors.

What happened in the nonprofit field is, I think, very analogous. The last half of the twentieth century saw tremendous growth in the nonprofit sector, as measured by number of organizations, number of employees, employment rate relative to overall employment, revenue and expenses, assets—all these grew at an amazing rate. That nonprofit sector growth produced a climate of opportunity to which universities responded, with a lot of help from their friends.