Study Non-Profit Management: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a non-profit management degree program? Read about associate and bachelor's degree program requirements, the pros and cons of an undergraduate degree and potential careers.
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Studying Non-Profit Management: Undergraduate Degrees at a Glance

People who run non-profit organizations use many of the same skills as private industry business managers, but they also need to know about fundraising, grant writing, board governance, volunteer management and regulatory impacts. In 2009, the National Center for Charitable Statistics noted that non-profit organizations accounted for 9% of all U.S. wages. With such a significant economic presence, non-profit organizations can be a good opportunity for someone who is seeking a business career with an altruistic quality.

Earning an associate or a bachelor's degree in non-profit management can give you an edge in obtaining an executive job with a charitable organization, or it could give you the knowledge you need to start your own non-profit organization. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that top executives, including those who work in non-profit management, would see only a five percent employment growth between 2010 and 2020.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People who are interested in functional management or staff positions at non-profit organizations People who would like to be involved in general management of charity, educational, religious, government, political or public service organizations
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Community and Social Service Specialists ($38,000)*
- Social and Human Services Assistant ($29,000)*
- PR & Fundraising Managers ($93,000)*
- Social and Community Service Managers ($59,000)*
- Education Administrators ($44,000)* (This career may include additional licensing requirements.)
Time to Completion About 2 years full-time About 4 years full-time, though some schools offer accelerated and/or part-time programs
Common Graduation Requirements - About 8-10 general education course requirements
- About 8 core business education classes
- About 3 or 4 non-profit management courses (may be termed elective courses if non-profit management is a specialization)
- Core general education requirements (will vary by school but typically 8-12 courses)
- General business education courses
- Roughly 8-12 courses in the non-profit management major
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Some classes may be available online Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Non-Profit Management

An associate degree in non-profit management can be a good step on the path to a bachelor's degree, or it can give you an edge if you're looking to enter the job market quickly. Non-profit studies at this level are primarily offered through business programs, such as the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Business, AAS in Business Management or AAS in Business Administration. This allows you to study business, while focusing your coursework on financial and public relations issues unique to the non-profit sector.

Pros and Cons


  • You can complete the program in about 2 years, and you may be able to continue working full-time
  • Credits you earn may be transferrable to a bachelor's degree program should you wish to pursue more education
  • You can find non-profit organizations in a variety of different areas (e.g., civic leagues and chambers of commerce)*


  • The program may not prepare you to enter upper-level management positions
  • You may find that on-the-job experience at a non-profit would give you knowledge equivalent to completing this degree
  • If you are employed and simply looking to increase your specific knowledge of non-profit organizations, you may not want to take the required general education courses

Source: *National Center for Charitable Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In an associate degree program, you'll be required to complete both general education courses, such as English, math and science, and classes related to your specific area of interest. For the non-profit management degree, you'll take some core business education courses like management, accounting, economics and ethics.

In the non-profit management area, you will take courses such as grant writing, fundraising and public relations. You may also need to complete an internship, team project or work assignment.

Online Degree Options

Many schools offer online associate degree programs in business areas; however, online programs that specialize in non-profit management are limited in availability. If you'd like to complete your coursework online, you may wish to pursue a standard online business management associate degree program. You can couple this with an online certificate program that focuses on non-profit management. This allows you gain similar training from traditional on-campus business programs that offer non-profit studies.

Stand Out with This Degree

While an associate degree can help you obtain a job in non-profit management, it may not be all you need to reach the higher levels of general management. You may want to focus your elective coursework on a particular functional area like finance, public relations or human resources to better position yourself for a specific functional management role. Also, your non-profit work history can be an important part of your resume, so even as you are studying to earn this degree, you might want to spend some of your spare time volunteering with organizations you find interesting to help build your resume and professional network.

Bachelor's in Non-Profit Management

Bachelor's degree programs in non-profit management, such as the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Non-Profit Management or B.S. in Public and Non-Profit, prepare students to lead charitable, government, educational and religious organizations. The program addresses topics specific to non-profit management, such as managing volunteers and applying for grants, as well as the legal, public relations and accounting issues that are specific to the non-profit sector.

Some schools offer the degree as a major, which requires you to take a number of common core knowledge courses in addition to significant coursework in non-profit management. Other schools offer accelerated programs that accept an associate degree or work experience in place of the foundational courses, allowing you to simply work on the courses related to the major.

Pros and Cons


  • Earning this degree can give you a career advantage over people who only have private-sector experience and traditional business education
  • This degree program covers multiple functional aspects of leading a non-profit organization, which can prepare you to succeed at the top level of non-profit management.
  • Social and community service manager employment is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations (27% from 2010 to 2020)*


  • Employment for top executives, including those in the non-profit sector, is projected to grow slower than average (5% from 2010 to 2020)*
  • Some components of non-profit management job duties, like fundraising, can be stressful at times*
  • Management salaries in the non-profit sector tend to be lower than those in the private sector*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in non-profit management cover the numerous functional areas that you might encounter in leading a non-profit organization. You can expect to take courses in management, information systems, marketing and public relations, ethics, finance and strategy.

The program may also cover topics like dealing with boards of directors, managing volunteers, complying with regulatory matters and raising funds in the non-profit context. Depending on the particular program, you may also need to complete a set of core courses required of all students earning a bachelor's degree at your institution.

Online Degree Options

There are accredited online programs for earning a bachelor's degree in non-profit management. However, like the traditional program, some schools offer non-profit management as a specialization within a major. Choosing a program like this could mean more courses would be required or that there would be less coursework directly related to non-profit management. Some schools offer online certificate programs in non-profit management. These could be a good option for someone who is looking to gain formal knowledge, but who doesn't need to earn a full degree.

Stand Out with This Degree

You may be entering this degree program with a desire to work in a particular field - for example, advocating for health care for underprivileged children. If that is the case, any additional coursework you can take in that area (in this example, public health policy courses) will help you obtain a position in the field and successfully communicate with funders, volunteers and clients.

While not required, pursuing a professional credential in management can also help you stand out. For example, you may be interested in the Certified Manager (CM) credential from the Institute of Certified Professional Managers or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential from the Project Management Institute.

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