Specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership

PhD in Leadership Studies

Department of Leadership Studies

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Our faculty and students believe in the power of dynamic leadership in the third sector.

The PhD in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership and Management is intended for students with interest and experience in any of the three sectors (private, public, and nonprofit), but with a special interest in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies.

Its emphasis is on developing a student’s ability to engage in what Aristotle referred to as practical reasoning (i.e., reasoning that focuses on making decisions about the best course of action to pursue in particular situations by attending to empirical evidence and value issues and the relationship between values and empirical understanding). The program also is interdisciplinary; it introduces students to theoretical constructs from a wide variety of social science and humanities disciplines and encourages students to use these constructs in the course of deciding what courses of action to take in policy making and practice.

Students are taught by faculty with decades of experience in nonprofit research and practice. Our students develop the skills to conduct original research and use empirical evidence to improve their practice and lead innovation. Graduates of this specialization work as nonprofit leaders, researchers, policy-makers, and faculty.



"The clear focus on teaching and the importance placed on student growth is palpable, and mutual respect is evident."
- Laura Deitrick '10

The former executive director of the Coronado Schools Foundation, alumna Laura Deitrick served as a senior research associate in the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research while completing her doctoral program at SOLES. Post-graduation, she became the Center's director.

Other alumni job titles include:

  • Assistant Professor
  • Executive Director
  • Foundation President
  • Nonprofit Organizational Consultant
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate
  • Program Director

Program Overview

The PhD in Leadership Studies in the Department of Leadership Studies offers students an outstanding foundation in leadership theory and practice, as well as in research methodology. Students also specialize in a particular area of leadership through elective coursework and research.

The Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership and Management Specialization encompasses 18 units of coursework of which 9 units are prescribed. It is expected that students in this specialization will focus their dissertation and any other student-initiated research projects on the nonprofit/philanthropic sector.

Students work closely with their faculty advisers to design a course of study that will serve their personal and professional growth needs. The departments nationally recognized faculty are key contributors to cutting-edge research on nonprofit and philanthropic leadership, policy, and practice.

The key objectives of the specialization are to:

  • enable students to acquire functional knowledge of major topics in nonprofit research as well as competency in analyzing the theoretical and practical constructs in that research;
  • provide students with a thorough understanding of trends in the sector including the implications of those trends on nonprofit/philanthropic practice and research;
  • teach students, through direct involvement with the research process, how original research on the sector can be conducted in a variety of settings using a range of methodologies and different data sources (including, but not limited to, existing third sector data bases); and
  • enable students to explore how research and theory, on the one hand, can be linked to policy and practice, on the other hand, through the use of a variety of pedagogical strategies that emphasizing teaching and learning though either direct or virtual experience.

Distinguishing Features

  • Personalized faculty advising to tailor course selection to student needs
  • In-depth coverage of emerging trends in the sector
  • Opportunity for short-term coursework abroad, taught by Leadership Studies faculty
  • Interaction with students in other leadership disciplines, such as organizational leadership, higher education leadership, and PK-12 school leadership, for a broader learning experience


Nonprofit specialization courses and experiences vary somewhat from student to student, depending upon the student’s experiences and prior academic background, as well as her or his career goals.

For example, students who have not completed either SOLES' MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management or an equivalent program work with their advisors to fill knowledge gaps by taking appropriate graduate courses that comprise the nonprofit masters in that program. All of these students are required to take Nonprofit Sector and Management Fundamentals.

In addition, students planning careers in positions that will require them to do research throughout their careers (e.g., tenure track faculty positions in universities) are expected to take at least two additional research methods courses beyond the five research courses required by the Leadership Studies PhD program.

In addition to the core leadership and research courses included in the doctoral program of study, the following specialization courses are required:

Course Number Course Title Graduate Units
LEAD 630 Seminar: Overview of Research in Nonprofit/Philanthropic Studies 3
LEAD 579 Contemporary Issues in the Third Sector 3
LEAD 501* Nonprofit Sector and Management Fundamentals 3

*Students with an academic background in the nonprofit field may substitute another nonprofit related elective for LEAD 501 in consultation with their advisors.

The following courses are highly recommended for students seeking research careers:

Course Number Course Title Graduate Units
LEAD 613 Advanced Quantitative Research 3
LEAD 612 Advanced Qualitative Research 3
LEAD 500 Research, Design and Evaluation 4
LEAD 616 Survey Research 3
LEAD 609 Evaluation Theory and Methods 3
LEAD 614 Special Topics in Advanced Research Methods 3

Other courses may be developed. Students should consult with their advisors.

Additional Expectations

  • All students who wish to be designated as participating in the nonprofit/philanthropic specialization are required to do their dissertation research in an area pertaining to the specialization.
  • If research courses include student-initiated research projects, students will be expected to design projects that focus on some aspect of the third sector.


The faculty whose primary area of research is in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership include:

Bob Donmoyer hans
Robert Donmoyer Hans Schmitz

View all doctoral faculty biographies.


For information on how to apply to the PhD in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership, visit the main PhD program page.