Nonprofit work, leadership forms heart of new humanitarian major


A willingness to help others led Kayla Gullickson to become one of the first South Dakota State students to declare Leadership and Management of Nonprofit Organizations as a major.

“I chose this major because I saw that it could help me make an impact on the world,” Kayla said. “I just want to run a nonprofit, whether that’s in D.C., here in Brookings or somewhere else.”

Kayla’s personal ties to nonprofit work drove her to pursue the newly added major. Her mother, Heidi Gullickson, is the executive director for the Brookings Area United Way, where Kayla has volunteered over the last five years. 

“(Kayla)’s been involved with volunteering from a young age, working with organizations starting at fourth or fifth grade and then through middle school and high school,” Heidi said. “I think her involvement in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) gave her a bigger view of what a nonprofit could be because it was on the national level.”

Previously offered as a minor, the major will now give a more in depth look at nonprofit work.

“One of the trends in the nonprofit sector is that it is becoming more of a professionalized industry,” said Kim Gustafson, a consumer sciences instructor who helped create the major. “The minor offers just the foundational knowledge. We cannot go super in depth with topics like fundraising practices, fundraising techniques, volunteer management, because it is just a minor, there are only 18 credits. With the major, we can really have a robust program where students can learn those skills that they need to know once they leave here.”

According to the South Dakota Board of Regents, it is the first program of its kind in the state. Gustafson and co-creator Jane Hegland, head of the Department of Consumer Sciences, had to build the LMNO major from the ground up due to this.

“We agreed that based on a whole lot of materials that we read that the nonprofit world is becoming an area that students might be interested in and certainly a place they might work after graduating,” Hegland said. “We’re really excited about the major. It has been a long journey to get it from conception to reality.”

While many of the core classes are part of the minor, four new nonprofit-specific classes tailored to the LMNO major are in the works. Skills such as fundraising, financial management, volunteer management and internship preparation will be taught starting fall 2018.

The curriculum follows the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s 10 core competencies, a standardized list of skills in demand by nonprofit employers. Students in this major can work toward a National Certified Nonprofit Professional credential, which trains them for nonprofit management careers.

“I think LMNO is an important addition to SDSU because through this major you’re not only learning leadership skills, but you’re also able to make connections with businesses around the area that will help you further your career and also help you learn how to impact the areas around you,” Kayla said.

While there is a large demand for nonprofit workers internationally, much of the need can be seen in cities across America. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics in 2014 said nonprofits account for 10.3 percent of all private sector employment, a total of  11.4 million jobs nationwide. 

“People think that if you’re going to work for nonprofit that you’re not going to get paid, and there is that element of it, but you do make a living off of this,” Hegland said.

Both personal characteristics and the specialized expertise learned at SDSU will be important to future employers, according to Gustafson. She expressed a need for nonprofit workers to have inherent skills as well, such as caring for people, to succeed in their careers. 

“It is a very service-based field,” Gustafson said. “If you think of all of the different nonprofits out there, they are always focusing on bettering the world, bettering society, bettering the human element of it, whether it is someone’s living style or financial situation or education.”

Inspired by the need she has seen in her past volunteer work, Kayla aims to tackle issues like safe driving or helping children through organizations such as Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which provides free books to children five and under. Though it may differ from her line of work, Heidi is looking forward to Kayla finding her own way in the field of nonprofit work.

“It is exciting to have her be interested in the same kinds of things I am, where I can give her advice along the way, but nonprofit is a very wide sector, so she does not have to be in the same areas that I work in,” Heidi said. “Mostly, it is exciting to see young people have interest in the nonprofit world as a whole.”