Key Points

In the 1990s, nonprofit management education was an emerging discipline with few established academic centers seeking to increase connectivity, build out the field, and gain financial sustainability. While organized philanthropy supported this development, foundations’ impact on individual programs and the field more broadly is unclear.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Building Bridges Initiative, a $13.5 million, five-year program to fund nonprofit academic centers as a strategy to increase the nonprofit sector’s capacity, exemplifies the potentials and limits of a private foundation’s engagement with emerging academic disciplines. This article assesses the long-term sustainability of grant investments and to what degree successful projects were integrated into the ongoing operation of universities, and examines the achievements and limitations of this philanthropic effort.

This analysis finds that the initiative advanced the institutionalization of nonprofit management education by legitimizing grantees both within and outside universities, supporting program delivery and expansion, and fostering collaborative networks. However positive those outcomes, the strategy raises broader issues concerning philanthropic impact, as grantees struggled to ensure long-term sustainability, connections to practice, and expanding the field beyond U.S. borders.

This study is intended to help foundations understand their impact on large-scale institutions like universities and colleges as well as on narrowly focused program areas. It concludes by offering alternative strategies for collaboration between the foundation sector and academia.

Open Access