Yvonne Harrison, assistant professor

Stronger Management, Higher Performance

Whether it’s confronting out-of-control spending or creating a strategic vision, one of the most important requirements for nonprofit organizations is effective leader-ship. A critical element in providing effective leadership is the organization’s governing board. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy Assistant Professor Yvonne Harrison has spent more than a decade exploring the leadership role and performance challenges of governing boards.

“Very often board members have many ideas about what is working and what might be done better,” said Dr. Harrison.

Rockefeller College, University at Albany
Rockefeller College, University at Albany

"One of the best ways to stimulate change and tap the potential for board members to contribute to improving performance is to have them complete a well-designed and well-tested questionnaire covering all facets of board operations.

To address improvement in performance, Dr. Harrison and her colleague, Professor Vic Murray of the University of Victoria, created BoardCheckup.com, a one-of-a-kind online theory- based self-assessment tool for nonprofit board members and those who collaborate with the board on a regular basis. When the results are summarized and analyzed, they provide an excel-lent basis for learning and board development.

Their project is the subject of a SUNY Open Textbook and forms the basis of a series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Drs. Harrison and Murray devel-oped these courses with the aid of a SUNY Innovative Instruc-tional Technology Grant, as well as support through the UAlbany Provost’s Office of Online Teach-ing and Learning. Their goal is to increase access to nonprofit education, extend their research and educate boards about the leadership and governance of nonprofit organizations.

Albany Law School
Albany Law School

Last year alone, more than 15,000 people from 188 coun-tries signed up for “Improving Leadership and Governance in Nonprofit Organizations,” indicating a global market and demand for non-profit leadership education. In 2016, the MOOC was transformed into a series of smaller on-de-mand courses that generate enough revenue to support Dr. Harrison’s nonprofit leadership research, education and service agenda. Her work is recognized for both the economic impact of her scholarship and the deep positive effect on the nonprofit sector made by the technology upon which she based her work.

On the service front, Dr. Harrison was also part of a group that received a UAlbany President’s Award for Exemplary Community Engagement for the “Emerging Issues in the Nonprofit Sector Seminar Series.” The collab-oration, inaugurated in 2012 by UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare, School of Public  Health, School of Business and  Rockefeller College, advances and explores issues confronting the nonprofit sector. Dr. Harrison has since joined with Rose Mary Bailly, executive director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, to expand the series and lead a conversation to further develop leadership and governance within the Nonprofit Law Synergy Group.   

UAlbany will also launch a new Interdisciplinary Institute of Nonprofit Leadership and  Community Development that will begin with a University-community forum  coordinated by Dr. Harrison.