Guide to College Majors in Nonprofit Management

In charity there is no excess.
--Sir Francis Bacon

What Is Nonprofit Management?

Nonprofit management is remarkable for both its similarities to and differences from traditional business management. As with a regular degree in management, a nonprofit management degree focuses on building skills in organizational governance, finance, administration, and entrepreneurship. However, the organization's goals--financial profits versus helping the underprivileged, promoting the arts, or empowerment through education--set these two types of enterprises more than a world apart.

Nonprofits' unique challenges include finding creative ways to generate operating finances, attracting high caliber professionals and volunteers without the lure of big money, maintaining goodwill, and finding meaningful evaluation tools with which to measure success and indicate areas for improvement.

A nonprofit organization, by definition, takes any money received or earned and puts it back into the organization to drive its mission and promote its activities or services. There are no profit-sharing checks or payouts to investors or shareholders. "Doing well" means that your cause has been furthered. Measuring success isn't always straightforward--you have to look at how many people were reached, helped, motivated, or educated through your efforts. The proliferation of nonprofits is due in part to the increased need to fill societal welfare functions that the government no longer provides.

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Nonprofit Management Degrees and Careers

Business majors who believe in the goals of a nonprofit organization provide the essential skills and knowledge to help the organization fulfill its mandate. The same skill sets that help businesspeople in for-profit corporations are valuable in nonprofits. There is only so much disposable income, grant money, or volunteer time that can be accessed; the competition to capture those resources can be intense.

You'll be involved in research and development, marketing, financial management, production, sales, public relations, training and human resource development. The pay rates in nonprofit careers won't be as high as comparable positions within the corporate world, but the gap is closing. There is an evolution in the perception of nonprofit professionals. Seen now as crucial to the organization's success, the annual salary rate is rising steadily and so too is the minimum acceptable level of expertise through education and experience.

Nonprofit jobs can be incredibly competitive despite low pay scales, as more and more professionals enter the workforce with a desire to do something they are passionate about. A bachelor's degree will be the minimum requirement for most entry-level professional positions, and upper-level ones may require a master's. Many professionals in this field are turning to online degrees as a way to improve their resumes without giving up valuable work experience.

A college education is critical, but equally important is your proven commitment to the cause. You can demonstrate this by volunteering in the area you want to work in and by becoming a member of the board of directors. Networking is also a great way to get references and referrals for the higher-level positions within nonprofit management.

The Joys of Nonprofit Jobs

The intangible rewards of working for something one believes in has most people in this career area reporting an above-average level of job satisfaction. This is not to say that there are no frustrations in a nonprofit management career, but the benefits seem to outweigh them. The motivation for you and your peers is derived from common vision and harmony.

Your entry into a nonprofit management career can come early in your professional life, or you may be part of the growing trend of older professionals who make the move from corporate life, taking their solid business expertise onto this more altruistic path in their remaining work years.

Job opportunities in nonprofits are expected to increase as governments decrease the number and scope of social services that they provide, and nonprofit organizations spring up to fill the void. And because there are so many "soft" skills involved in nonprofit work, this is an area that is least susceptible to advancements in technology. Human contact, intuition and compassion are not duties that any computer can replace. You might choose to work with education, religious groups, charities, civic leagues, social and animal welfare, and local employee organizations. A degree in nonprofit management is also excellent preparation for starting your own organization.

Career Education in Nonprofit Management

Career training programs in nonprofit management provide a background in business applications, but are adapted to apply to professional nonprofit settings. Online degree programs, increasing in popularity among busy professionals, offer flexibility and allow students the opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge immediately.

Associate & Bachelor's Degrees in Nonprofit Management

At the undergraduate level, consider a business degree with related coursework in the area you wish to work in. For example, a business major with a minor in art history could help you secure a job in a museum or in arts education programs. A finance degree with courses in early childhood development can lead to management work in child welfare foundations.

As the appreciation grows for quality management in nonprofit agencies, so too does the demand for a higher level of education. Courses in nonprofit management can include fundraising, grant proposal writing, special taxation issues, and volunteer training and management.

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What can you do with a College Major in Nonprofit Management?

Estimates of the number of nonprofit careers run from between 7% to over 10% of the U.S. workforce. Regardless of your notion of the "typical" nonprofit organization, the true scope of the nonprofit sector will likely surprise you -- it includes organizations in arts and culture, community economic development, health care, and even government.

Nonprofit organizations can be grouped into those that serve their members (like labor unions and political parties), and nthose that are open to everyone, such as religious groups and social welfare organizations. They can then be categorized by the roles they perform: service providers, support providers, funding, advocacy and so on.

Nonprofit organizations share a lot of the same job responsibilities as corporate organizations. The Harvard Business School outlines familiar (to business grads) job titles for MBA grad in nonprofit management. These are:

  • Executive director - similar to a CEO
  • Director of development - head of fundraising
  • Director of marketing/ communications - more emphasis on pr
  • Chief financial officer - grant disbursement and broad accounting functions
  • Director of MIS - information systems
  • Program director - similar to a product manager
  • Human resources director - in larger organizations
  • Manager of special projects - for unique project work

Other Nonprofit Jobs

Some of the most crucial careers in the nonprofit world involve making sure your organization has enough money to achieve its mission. Because nonprofits are just that--they don't bring in profit--getting funding from a variety of public and private sources is a constant process for nonprofits.

Grant coordinators or writers handle the time-consuming process of soliciting grants and write the actual applications for requesting them. With the large number of grants awarded annually in the U.S., but the equally huge number of organizations applying for them, it makes good business sense for large organizations to hire an expert in grant proposals. Grant coordinators will research all the possible grants available, assemble all the supporting documentation and budget information, and write the proposal in such a way as to convince the funder that their organization or department should be funded. The grant coordinator may also be responsible for follow-up reports to the funding body to explain how the funds were used - and hopefully create goodwill for the next grant.

Fundraisers have the same goals as grant coordinators (bringing in money), but different methods for achieving them. They may organize special fundraising events, locate and manage donation sites, organize fundraising volunteers to solicit public donations, and facilitate meetings with large donors. According to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), 90% of their members hold a bachelor's degree and 43% have a master's or higher.

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