Nonprofit Management Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study 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 business degree in nonprofit management 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 empowering through education — set these two types of enterprises a world apart.

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.

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.

Nonprofit Management Degrees and Careers

The same skills that help businesspeople in for-profit corporations are applicable to nonprofits: research and development, marketing, financial management, production, sales, public relations, training and human resource development. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for most entry-level professional positions, and upper-level ones may require a master’s.

Nonprofit positions can be incredibly competitive. 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 or by networking, preferably with other nonprofit professionals. Many professionals in this field are turning to online degrees as a way to improve their resumes without giving up work experience.

Types of Nonprofit Management Degrees

Associate & Bachelor’s Degrees in Nonprofit Management

At the undergraduate level, courses in nonprofit management can include fundraising, grant proposal writing, special taxation issues, and volunteer training and management. Consider a business degree with related coursework in the area you wish to work in. For example, a student who wishes to work in a museum or in arts education programs might pursue a business major with a minor in art history, while a student interested in child welfare foundations might look into a finance degree with courses in early childhood development.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Nonprofit Management?

Nonprofit organizations can be grouped into those that serve their members (like labor unions and political parties), and those 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. It includes organizations in arts and culture, community economic development, health care, and even government.

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. Grant coordinators 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 funding body that their organization or department should be funded. The grant coordinator may also be responsible for follow-up reports to the funding body, explaining how the funds were used… and hopefully creating 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/or facilitate meetings with large donors.

Nonprofit Certification and Licensure

You are not required to have any specific certification to work in the nonprofit sector, but as with most job enhancements, it doesn’t hurt.

Examples of designations for nonprofit management are the Advanced Certified Fundraising Executive Program (ACFRE) administered by the ACFRE Professional Certification Board, and the Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) offered by the International Board for Certified Fundraising Executives.

The ACFRE certification has a four-stage process, to be completed sequentially: a written application, written examination, a portfolio review, and an oral peer review. The CFRE credential is open to fundraising executives who have earned at least five years of experience. It too involves an application, examination, adherence to accountability standards and recertification every three years.

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