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Plugging the Mission Gap
Smith Faculty Develops New Paradigm for
Nonprofit Strategic Planning
To many people, the nonprofit and private sectors are
entirely separate entities with their own challenges. But to Rob
Sheehan, there are many lessons that can be applied across
strategies that can be effective when properly implemented.
“I've always been preoccupied with the question of how we can
take the best ideas of business and apply them in the nonprofit
sector,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan is currently the academic director of the Smith
School's Executive MBA Program, and has devoted his entire
career thus far to working in and researching the nonprofit
“Nonprofits are mission-driven, but also have the edge of
business,” he said. “You can actually fail, so you need to
figure out how to make money. This is why all things -
marketing, finance, operations - are important.”
As a PhD student at The Ohio State University, his
dissertation focused on organizational performance and how the
concept relates to the nonprofit sector. If you don't understand
how to measure performance, he said, then there's no way to do
strategic or any other planning.
Sheehan's 2010 book, Mission Impact: Breakthrough
Strategies for Nonprofits, aims to provide a new paradigm
for strategic planning in nonprofits. In it, he summarizes 30
years of learning--which have included eighteen years as a CEO
of two national nonprofits, scholarly research, and consulting
“I see myself as an interpreter,” he said. “I dive in to the
research, but translate and help nonprofit executives answer the
'so what' question.” As a researcher and consultant, he
has helped many organizations and executives clarify their
sometimes 'fuzzy' ideas about performance.
He currently has an article under review that aims to be to
academics what the book is to practitioners-an explanation of
the new paradigm for figuring out what an organization's mission
gap is, and designing a strategy to fulfill that gap.
A terrific example of 'getting it right' is the North Texas
Food Bank, Sheehan said. The organization has a solid handle on
measuring what it calls the 'meal gap' - which really allows it
to tailor its performance and have a transformative impact on
Another long time interest of Sheehan's, as evident in his
work with the EMBA program, is in leadership development. As CEO
of both LeaderShape, Inc., and the Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity &
Educational Foundation, Sheehan implemented leadership
development programs-not as common in the nonprofit sector, but
very obviously related to performance.
“Ideas of leadership development really cross all sectors,
and that is the aspect of the Executive MBA program that
particularly inspires me,”
Sheehan, who joined the Smith School in 2003, has spent the
past six years as the academic director of the EMBA program. The
program has flourished under his leadership and currently ranks
15th in the U.S. and 22nd in the world, according to recently
published rankings in the Financial Times and Wall
Street Journal, respectively.
He is proud of the accomplishments, he said, but is looking
to continue to improve with the support of a faculty and staff
that isn't content to rest on their laurels.
“I've always believed my purpose in life is to make a
difference,” he said. “The question is where do I place myself
to make the most difference.”
Sheehan, who lives in College Park, is an avid sports fan and
cheers for his hometown and college teams of Pittsburgh and Ohio
Dr. Rob Sheehan
talks about how nonprofits can apply business strategies in his
new book, “Mission Impact: Breakthrough Strategies for
Nonprofits,” on Smith Business Close-Up.
Dr. Sheehan's book reviewed on Chronicle of Philanthropy