I’m profiling several young nonprofit leaders I admire not only for their professional work, but for the values they live out for themselves.

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

-Maya Angelou

Lindsey McDougle is currently a doctoral student at the University of San Diego pursuing a degree in Leadership Studies with a specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies. She is a doctoral research assistant at the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research at the University. Research wise, Lindsey is interested in race, class, and gender differences in public expectations of nonprofit organizations, as well as in leadership and social media.

I “met” Lindsey online after she started reading my blog. A few months later, I was delighted to see she had started her own blog sharing her expertise on leadership studies. Her writing and advocacy for higher education in philanthropy is part of what inspired me to pursue a PhD in that field myself. If you’re trying to navigate the nonprofit PhD scene, Lindsey’s knowledge will certainly prove useful to you as well.

Lindsey McDougle, Blogger at Leadership as a Field of Study, Doctoral Research Assistant at the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research
Age: 27
Lives in: San Diego, CA

How did you become interested in doing the work of social change?
My interest in social change has been pretty continuous since I started college. Although I have not always been interested in the area of nonprofit and philanthropic studies, I have always been interested in a variety of socially related issues.

As an undergraduate student, for instance, I was heavily interested in environmental justice and issues of equity with regard to environmental concerns. The minimal amount of environmental resources (and environmentally focused education programs) invested into rural areas and communities of color led me to pursue a degree in Human Dimensions in Natural Resources.  I continued this interest into graduate school, but I also became interested in corporate social responsibility and corporate philanthropy, and the role that corporations can play in helping to alleviate social disparities.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies?
I think that many people who study, or even work in, the nonprofit sector have a belief that there is something that they can do… something that they can contribute… to help make the world (if only in a small way) a better, more equitable place. And, I think that nonprofit organizations allow people a means of turning that belief into reality.

For me, then, I was really interested in studying how nonprofits-these organizations that often act as conduits for so much good-could effectively leverage their resources to achieve the greatest societal benefit.

Tell me about some of the nonprofit research you’ve done so far.
There are not very many academic centers that focus specifically on nonprofit research. So when I began the process of looking into Ph.D. programs, the University of San Diego (USD) immediately stood out to me.  I think that I have been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit Research at the University. Through the Center I have not only been able to lead major research projects, but I have also been able to develop practical consulting skills through several applied projects.

My most recent research project focused on public confidence in the San Diego County nonprofit sector (a project that was funded by the San Diego Foundation).  With my team of colleagues, we designed an in-depth survey instrument that assessed the level of confidence San Diegan’s had in a variety of nonprofit services, their confidence in different nonprofit sub-sectors, their perceptions of executive compensation in the sector, and their preferences for nonprofit services over the services provided by other sectors.

My dissertation research uses this same data set and I am focusing on how race, class, gender, and individual values may affect a person’s perceptions of, and preference for, nonprofit organizations in industries where nonprofit, for-profit, and government organizations coexist and compete for customers (e.g., education and health care industries).

What lessons have you learned from your consulting work in the nonprofit sector?
Every nonprofit organization is different. However, just like in the for-profit sector, leadership, strategy, and accountability are elements that all organizations, regardless of sectoral affiliation, must value. Nonprofit organizations often provide the services and goods to those most in need. Without effective leadership, deliberate strategy, and sound accountability nonprofits run the risk of not only damaging public image of the sector, but also of letting down those who most rely on, and need, their services.

You’ve been writing about nonprofit issues for a while now on your blog, Leadership as a Field of Study. How has blogging impacted your career?
I started blogging about 18 months ago.  A colleague of mine, Heather Carpenter (who was already an avid blogger) insisted that I share my “expertise” with others. At that time, however, I truly believed that I didn’t have much “expertise” to share.  I also didn’t know who would want to read about the things that I was interested in: leadership, nonprofits, and social change. But Heather really convinced me of the value in blogging… and so I began.

Since that time I have built a reputation as an expert in my field.  Prior to blogging I was a bit hesitant to stake my claim as an “expert,” but, indeed, I am! I know what I know, and I know my field.  I now contribute regularly to the Caster Center’s blog, and I have been extremely active in promoting the use of social media (all forms) throughout the University.

I often get e-mails and phone calls from people at other colleges and universities who are looking into either to designing, or enhancing, an academic leadership program. They use my blog as a resource and ask me to provide them with insight into what it might take (or should take) to establish a leadership program at their college or university.  Career wise, I think that Heather’s encouragement to begin blogging was probably one of the smartest things that I could have ever done.

I have to say that your blog was part of the inspiration that led me to take the leap in pursuing a PhD in leadership studies myself. What advice would you give to those who are considering this particular educational path?
I really get excited when I talk to people about pursing leadership as an academic field of study. Therefore, I am very happy to know that my blog was useful to you in deciding to pursue your doctorate. Leadership studies is a very interesting area of scholarly inquiry. It combines several traditional academic disciplines: from the social sciences, to the humanities, and even professional fields, to create this very (from my perspective) unique area of study focusing on a phenomenon which we all experience everyday-leadership.

That said I was pleased to hear that you had decided to pursue your Ph.D. in this area. At times I find that some young(er) people are hesitant to study leadership because they feel that they don’t have some required (as they view it) level of experience. However, studying leadership is not necessarily about experience-it’s about creativity and passion… and most importantly, it’s about research. So, to anyone considering this particular educational path, I would encourage them to simply do it.

How would you like to see your generation change the world?
Thoughtfully. Passionately. Confidently.

Many of us have the education, the resources, and the capability to do so many great things. It’s time to put dreams into action and go out and do it!

You can follow Lindsey on Twitter at @lindseymcdougle

imageRosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color working and living in the Washington, D.C. area.  She holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and blogs about nonprofit leadership and management issues at Perspectives From the Pipeline.