Our History

Mary Stuart Hall, MNPL Founder

The Master of Nonprofit Leadership Program was founded in 1994 as one of the first graduate programs in the United States focused on the professional education of nonprofit leaders.  

According to founding Director Mary Stewart Hall, the formation of MNPL was a collaborative process.  In the late 1980s, a group of charitable donors and nonprofit leaders came together for the Washington Gives campaign, a four-year initiative designed to strengthen the state’s voluntary organizations by encouraging an increase in giving and volunteering.  The campaign became the first statewide forum to explore significant nonprofit sector issues, including the need to improve the quality of education and training opportunities for leaders of nonprofit organizations.  The campaign also identified the need for an academic program serving the Pacific Northwest’s nonprofit sector.

In the early 1990’s, Dr. Hall gathered an advisory committee of twenty-six prominent nonprofit executives and charitable giving organizations to launch an assessment of the need and feasibility of a nonprofit master's degree program.  The Weyerhauser Foundation, where she was President, loaned her time to Seattle University to oversee the study.  Over the course of two years, she and the committee held 11 focus groups and spoke with more than 1000 civic leaders across Washington.  

Using what they learned, Dr. Hall and the committee identified the core competencies needed for Executive Leaders in the nonprofit sector, and developed recommendations for a program of study at Seattle University.  The advisory board of the SU Institute of Public Service endorsed the recommendation to create a master’s degree that would focus on nonprofit leadership, which was approved by Seattle University in late 1994.

The first cohort of graduate students began their 16-month program of studies in August of 1995 and graduated in December of 1996.

Dr. Hall served as Founding Director until December 2000, and remained on the faculty until June 2004 when she retired as Professor Emerita. Mr. Ted Lord, former Executive Director of the Pride Foundation, served as Acting Director of the MNPL program from January though July 2001. Dr. Michael Bisesi, Managing Director of Program Services at the Greater Houston Community Foundation and former Senior Vice President at the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast, became Director of the MNPL program in August 2001. He served as Director through June 2012, and then moved to full-time faculty status.

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Nonprofit Leadership 25th Anniversary Celebration

On October 11, 2019, more than 150 attendees gathered to celebrate 25 years of Nonprofit Leadership at Seattle University. We had an exciting event and were thrilled to recognize alumni with the Engage Award, Advocate Award, and Impact Award.

Learn about the recipients here.