Student Blog: Defining Community and Nonprofit Leadership

Brett in Brazil

By Brett Eby (’14), working as a teacher in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

There are some things that are true for young twenty-something’s no matter if they are in the United States or in Brazil. One, people will ask you, “Are you still in school?” and if the answer to that question is yes, this question will undoubtedly follow, “What are you studying? For many people, the answer is simple: “I study economics,” “I’m studying business management,” or, “I’m studying biology, I want to go to med school.” These are all simple answers to a simple question, and can be understood by most anyone. However, for those of us who went through the halls of Nancy Nicholas as a Community and Nonprofit Leadership majors, we understand that this simple question, “What do you study” is anything but simple.

Many of us grow up learning that you should go to college and get a degree in order to make money and be happy, so when we tell people that nonprofit is part of what we are learning, we receive blank stares, befuddled looks, or- my personal favorite- the look of minor disgust which is barely hiding what the person is thinking which is, “Eh, another one of those Madison hippy-liberals, I gotta get outta here quick.” However, this is not the case for all people we tell this to, and many people are genuinely interested in learning more about our program. As Community and Nonprofit Leadership majors, we have figured out a way to explain it to people in enough time so that we can go on with our day and not spend all day why this is what we study (Also, we figured out that Community and Nonprofit Leadership is a mouthful, so we use CNPL).

As a proud graduate of the CNPL major, I was no exception to this, and I had a set routine to explain what CNPL is. What I didn’t realize about my explanation until I moved to Brazil this past July, is that it only works for people who speak English. I’m currently an English teacher here in Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul, and many of my students are very inquisitive and want to know what I did before moving here, so inevitably I have had to explain what CNPL means. Given that the word “nonprofit” doesn’t exist in Portuguese, explaining what the major is needs to be broken down piece by piece, and it wasn’t until I really broke it down that I fully understood what the title of the major means.

So, if you happen to be a fellow CNPL Badger abroad, a current CNPL student, or just an inquisitive person wanting to learn more about what CNPL really means, here is my strategy for explaining it to people who are learning English.

Community: A community is a group of people who come together centered around one main goal or focus. Example: You as a student of English at Topway, are a part of the community at Topway.

Non: Non is a prefix. It is used in front of words to mean “no.” Example: The orange juice was nontoxic, so it did not make me sick.

Profit: Money. More specifically, extra money that a business makes after paying its’ expenses. Example: The boss bought himself a new car with the profit from last year.

It is at this point where you most likely will encounter what I like to call the “lost dog” face, because the people are now wondering how you can have a business that doesn’t make money, but holdfast, you’re a CNPL student, and if you can make your ultra-conservative family understand why you chose this major, you can make an ESL student understand too.

Leadership: The quality or skill of leading people. Example: Neymar Jr, has a lot of leadership, people love him and follow what he does. (Here it’s important to make the example relate to the person, so Neymar may not work in all situations.)

After breaking down each word you notice that there is twice the focus on people in the title as there is on money, and to me, that’s what a CNPL major is all about. Of course, any successful organization is going to need money to survive and achieve it’s mission, but what is twice as important is the service it provides for the people. I explain to my students that this is why I chose a CNPL major, because I want the focus of my career to be on the people, not money. It’s also a major reason I came to the relatively-unknown city of Passo Fundo, in order to meet the real people of Brazil, because what we know in the USA of Brazil is fairly little.

Much like the student who studies chemistry to become a pharmacist, and help sick people feel better, or the civil engineer student who wants to design projects that bring fresh water to places in Guatemala, CNPL students want to help people, so we put that directly into the title of our major.


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