MURRAY — Before arriving in Murray in 2008 and diving head first into nonprofit activities, both as a professor at Murray State University and a contributor to such causes as a citizen, Dr. Bob Long had been part of the powerful W.K. Kellogg Foundation for 16 years in Battle Creek, Michigan.
That had meant working side by side with one of that city’s main arms of nonprofit/community project resources, the Battle Creek Community Foundation. The Kellogg Foundation focuses on community-based organizations that serve young people, and it was 30 years ago that it began a quest to increase nonprofit leadership studies programs in the United States. At that time, there were maybe 25, and that number has now swelled to more than 300.
Long retired from the nonprofit leadership faculty at Murray State in 2016, but he has remained active. One project in particular has taken much of his time, one that is designed to tell the story of how nonprofit leadership studies has grown and the program’s importance. Now, in what he calls a coincidence, the Battle Creek Foundation has come back into Long’s life, supplying a $70,000 grant to the multimedia project’s home, the Community Foundation of West Kentucky.
“The Kellogg Foundation partners with the Battle Creek Community Foundation, and while looking back at grants they had supported, they determined that the body of work now 10 years old or more was important enough to take a look at it again. So what they did is, in preparation for their 90th anniversary next year, they gave the Battle Creek Foundation some resources to help with explorations and storytelling, and it just so happens that one of those was in support of nonprofits and education,” Long said of how he and Dr. Peter Weber, who was the director of Murray State’s nonprofit leadership studies program, were in the process of putting together such a project on their own.
They still were continuing their work even after Weber was recruited away last year to take over the nonprofit leadership studies program at Auburn University in Alabama, one of the top programs in the country, Long said.
“I really never left the work (after retiring from Murray State), and I’ve been involved in the research on this project and Peter and I have continued working on it even though he’s now at Auburn. So we’re working on this when the Kellogg Foundation and the Battle Creek Community Foundation said, ‘Hey! How would you like to partner with us?’ The thing was they didn’t know we were designing this research project.
“It’s all coincidence, honest,” Long said, adding that he retired from Kellogg after it appeared the 30-year project was pretty much finished. “We were trying to really be responsible in investing in leadership development of people who run those kinds of organizations, so (Kellogg) invested in a certain period of time, 30 years, a significant amount of money and energy, human resources, and helped build those educational programs for nonprofit leaders. It was going to grow anyway because the need was real and it was just kind of catching the wave at the right time with those grants.
“Then the foundation said, ‘OK, we’ve kind of finished our body of work,’ so I retired and was fortunate enough to get the chance to join the program here.”
While the West Kentucky foundation is the project home, it is the Auburn and Murray State programs that are its leaders. Tony Watkins, CEO of the West Kentucky foundation, said he strongly supports this mission.
“It makes sense to permanently connect learning and practice for all community organizations. We need to continue to invest in leadership and management education,” Watkins said, stressing the importance of strong connections between higher education institutions and community agencies.
Long said that eventually the project – titled “The Building of a New Field: Past, Present and Future of Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies” – will probably blossom into having a price tag of at least $90,000. He said the assistance from Battle Creek is very welcome.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t know of the impact you have in life, period,” he said. “Then, you don’t often have the opportunity to, 10 years later, look back at the body of work that you did because you move on to the next thing.
“I think the exciting part of this story is that we have been working with the Community Foundation of West Kentucky since 2008. I met Tony Watkins and he got it. He got that the Kellogg Foundation had historically invested in programs that interest you and change people’s lives, but he also knew that you’ve got to invest in strengthening organizations so that they have the capacity to deliver on their programs and services.
“Building off the body of work from my years at Kellogg? That’s kind of secondary. We were at the right place at the right time.”