Nonprofit Management Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a nonprofit management graduate degree program? Read about graduate degree requirements, the pros and cons of a Master's Degree and PhD and potential careers.
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Nonprofit Management Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

The nonprofit sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. According to the Urban Institute, the number of nonprofits has increased by nearly 25% over the 2001-2011 decade and accounts for over 10% of jobs in the U.S. Nonprofit managers provide direction and coordinate operations for these public or private sector not-for-profit organizations. If you are interested in learning the skills needed to successfully lead a nonprofit organization, such as fundraising and development, nonprofit governance and volunteer management, you might want to earn a graduate degree in nonprofit management.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job growth for fundraising managers (also defined as public relations managers) was expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate of 21% between 2010 and 2020. Employment for top executives in all industries was predicted to have slower-than-average growth (approximately 5%) during this same time period.

MBA PhD
Who is this degree for? Mid-career adults who want to advance to leadership positions with a nonprofit organization Individuals interested in nonprofit research or those who want to teach at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Grant Writer ($58,000)*
- Volunteer Services Director ($63,000)*
- Fundraising manager ($93,000 - might vary depending on experience)**
- University business professor ($75,000)**
- Nonprofit executive director ($167,000)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-5 years full-time, 4-6 years part-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 36-52 credit hours
- Capstone project/seminar or thesis
- Exit exam
- 63-66 credit hours
- PhD exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in any field (MBA program may require foundation courses in business) Master's degree in any field
Online Availability Yes No

Sources: *Salary.com (May 2012 stats), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Nonprofit Management

Master's degree programs in nonprofit management allow you to study core concepts involved in the operation of a nonprofit organization. You will learn about fundraising, grant writing and volunteer management. Some nonprofit management programs expect grad students to already have an affiliation with a nonprofit organization, as either a volunteer or as an employee, before they are accepted into the program.

You can complete a master's in nonprofit management or an MBA with a concentration in nonprofit management. If you select an MBA degree program, you'll either need to have completed coursework in business or you'll be required to take some additional courses. MBA students also take core business courses, such as economics, statistics and accounting, as part of their required program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • The nonprofit sector is growing, creating more employment opportunities for nonprofit managers
  • A degree in nonprofit management gives you the flexibility to work in many different positions within an organization, such as in development, volunteer management and in executive leadership
  • There is less hierarchy in a nonprofit organization, giving you a better chance to work directly with top management and learn valuable skills for future job opportunities

Cons

  • Nonprofit managers earn less on average than their private sector counterparts (about $34.00/hour for nonprofit manager vs. about $42.00/hour for private sector manager)*
  • A graduate degree in nonprofit management is not required to obtain employment in the majority of nonprofit occupations, including executive management
  • Studying nonprofit management as part of a MBA program might require you to take general business courses that may not be specific to the nonprofit sector

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (April 2009 earnings comparison).

Common Courses and Requirements

Studying for a master's in nonprofit management requires a minimum of 36 hours of coursework. A master's in nonprofit management often requires a community service internship, allowing students to gain firsthand experience while working directly with a local nonprofit organization. Students also complete a research component or thesis and take an exit exam before graduating.

These courses are commonly found in a master's program for nonprofit management:

  • Grant writing
  • Board governance
  • Strategic planning
  • Nonprofit finance
  • Resource development
  • Volunteer management

Online Degree Options

There are a number of online degree and individual course options available in nonprofit management. These programs are designed to meet the needs of individuals already working in a nonprofit or other business environment who may not have the time to attend regular classes. The coursework required in an online program is the same as you will find in an on-campus course offering.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

One of the best ways to get ahead with this degree is to volunteer with one or more nonprofits during the course of your program, in addition to what may be required in your internship. Select nonprofits that vary in size and mission. This will give you firsthand experience with the scope of work, problems and needs of different organizations.

PhD in Nonprofit Management

PhDs in nonprofit management are rare. There are a select few schools that offer a stand-alone doctorate in this field, however, nonprofit management is most often found as an area of emphasis in a public policy or leadership studies PhD program. Some leadership studies PhD programs limit the number of students accepted each year. To apply to a PhD program, you often need two or more letters of reference and a current resume, along with applicable test scores and transcripts from your prior university.

If you are interested in nonprofit management, but cannot find a doctorate program that offers what you are looking for, you might consider completing a graduate certificate while concurrently pursuing a PhD in another related area. A graduate certificate in nonprofit management involves 12-15 hours of coursework and can be completed in less than two years.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD can be a valuable credential to have if you are considering forming your own nonprofit organization
  • Individuals with a PhD experience a lower than average unemployment rate when compared with other levels of educational attainment (2.5% vs. 7.6% overall unemployment)*
  • A PhD qualifies you to teach at the university level

Cons

  • There are very few campus-based or online PhD programs in nonprofit management
  • A PhD is an enormous time commitment (3 -5 years) and may not give you any advantage over job seekers with the equivalent amount of experience in the nonprofit sector
  • A PhD is not required to conduct research at most nonprofit organizations

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 2012).

Courses and Requirements

  • Ethics
  • Social justice
  • Organizational change
  • Research theory
  • Fundraising strategies

Online Degree Options

There are very few online options for students interested in a PhD in nonprofit management. There are however, several hybrid degree programs in leadership or public policy that offer a concentration in nonprofit management. These programs often require students to attend on-campus residencies throughout their course of study.

Stand Out with This Degree

While you are working on your PhD, you can volunteer or work with a variety of organizations to learn how each operates and about their struggles. You can join a professional network for nonprofit managers or fundraisers to meet other nonprofit professionals in your area and allow you to gain valuable insight into current trends, new techniques to reach donors and better ways to retain volunteers.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Claremont Graduate University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Evaluation & Applied Research
      • Master of Science in Marketing Analytics
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Florida Tech

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Organizational Leadership
      • Master's in Business Administration/Management
      • Master's in Business Administration/Project Management
      • Master's in Business Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    3. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
      • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Admin
      • MSM in Organizational Design and Development
      • Master : Business Admin
      • Master: Management/Project Mgmt
  • Campus and Online Programs
    5. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. - Entertainment Business
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA and MS in Leadership (Dual Degree)
      • MBA: Leadership
      • M.B.A. with an Emphasis in Project Management
      • MBA
  • Online Programs Available
    7. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Business Admin: Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Operations Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Public Admin
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Nonprofit Management
      • Master of Business Admin - General Business
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Accelerated Master of Science in Organizational Leadership
      • MBA - Strategic Management
      • MBA - Management
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Tulane University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Professional Studies in Cybersecurity Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Management
      • MS - Organizational Leadership
      • Master of Project Management

Featured Schools

Claremont Graduate University

  • Master of Science in Evaluation & Applied Research
  • Master of Science in Marketing Analytics

What is your highest level of education completed?

Florida Tech

  • MA in Organizational Leadership
  • Master's in Business Administration/Management
  • Master's in Business Administration/Project Management

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American University

  • Master of Science in Agile Project Management
  • Master of Science in Measurement and Evaluation

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Purdue University Global

  • Master of Public Admin
  • MSM in Organizational Design and Development
  • Master : Business Admin

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Full Sail University

  • M.S. - Entertainment Business

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Grand Canyon University

  • MBA and MS in Leadership (Dual Degree)
  • MBA: Leadership
  • M.B.A. with an Emphasis in Project Management

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American InterContinental University

  • Master of Business Admin: Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Operations Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Project Management

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Northcentral University

  • MBA - Public Admin
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Nonprofit Management
  • Master of Business Admin - General Business

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