The Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership was formally created in 1991 by action of the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri system. Its roots were in the work of Cookingham Institute (now Department of Public Affairs) faculty and community leaders, particularly adjunct professor Beth Smith and Cookingham Institute director, Dr. John Thomas, and the successful campaign to create and raise funds for an endowment to support a professorship on nonprofit leadership and management. This initiative also articulated a general strategy to develop a center to build the capacity of and engage in research about nonprofit organizations, leadership and management. The center was created under the direction of the first incumbent of this professorship, Dr. Edward Weaver, in collaboration with Ms. Smith and with the support of community, school, and institute leaders. Upon the creation of the center, the nonprofit professor role was expanded to include the responsibility of directing the center. MCNL’s initial programs included a pre-existing series of courses in fund raising and board development, and a community breakfast forum. A special internship to place graduate students in community nonprofit organizations, the Civic Internship, also was developed, funded, and implemented.
Soon after the creation of the center, Dr. Weaver assumed an executive position with the Kauffman Foundation. Following a national search, UMKC hired Dr. David Renz to be the next Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management and Director, Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. He joined the center and the faculty in the fall of 1993. Renz expanded the center through the development and presentation of several additional workshops and seminars, and recruited additional resource people to help expand center programming. In 1994, the center convened an advisory council of community nonprofit and public service leaders and executives to provide programmatic advice and support, and involved them in a major strategic planning process. The result was a strategic plan, the framework and core of which has provided guidance to the center for the past seven years (it is revised and refined every 2-3 years).
Center programming has grown as additional leadership and management courses and workshops have been added, including programs in the areas of general nonprofit leadership, issues forums, board development, strategic planning and supervision. On average, two to three programs are added each year. Some are presented for general public registration, others presented under contract to specific organizations. Program faculty and presenters include a diverse mix of UMKC faculty and community resource people. Renz also has developed applied research activities associated with both the center’s mission and his role as a tenured faculty member, and has joined division colleague Robert Herman in a regular program of writing on board and organizational effectiveness for academic and “serious practitioner” audiences. Some of these papers become white papers for the center, and others papers and articles for publication.
In 1995, the center engaged in dialogue with early education and care (EEC) leaders about that area’s great need for leadership and management development support. These discussions grew into a formal proposal, funded by three national foundations, to serve this unique, multi-sector community. The plan for this special program, known as the Forum for Early Childhood Organization and Leadership Development (The Forum), mirrored the plan for the overall center but with the focus on current and emerging EEC leaders as a unique customer group. In 1996, with funding from the three foundations, the center began to develop the Forum as an active program. Today, the Forum operates with a full-time director and two program coordinators, plus a fully functioning advisory system involving both regional and national advisory councils.
Today, the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership is an education and research enterprise that serves over five thousand current and emerging nonprofit leaders and managers through a combination of public and contracted programs and services. It also has become a nationally-known regional center that provides a unique and essential mix of management education and support to the nonprofit community from an urban land grant university base, a center that delivers high-quality, practitioner-friendly leadership and management development programs that are grounded in the theory and knowledge base that is being developed by both academic scholars and sophisticated practitioners. Through its affiliation with and involvement in the research conducted by Department of Public Affairs faculty including center director, David Renz, the Midwest Center also is becoming well-known as a source of high quality applied research, particularly in the areas of governance, nonprofit effectiveness, and community leadership.