Non-Profit Manager: Education for a Career in the Not-For-Profit Sector

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a non-profit manager. Get a quick view of the educational requirements as well as details about job duties and career options to find out if this is the career for you.

Non-profits play a special role in between government and traditional businesses, being driven and assessed by their mission. Non-profit manager is a broad term that can be used for different divisions of an organization. Regardless of their title, non-profit managers work in an environment that necessitates taking on many different projects and tasks.

Essential Information

The non-profit sector is made up of charitable organizations that are not categorized as government agencies or for-profit businesses. Their missions typically involve social services and advocacy, advancing trades and professions, grant-making or political services. The employment and salary statistics below apply to social and community service managers, a broader occupational category that includes non-profit managers.

Required Education Variable; a bachelor's degree in public administration, business administration, accounting or finance and, depending on the employer, a master's degree in non-profit administration or public management
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% (for social & community service managers)
Median Salary (2015)* $63,530 (for social & community service managers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

Depending upon the size and mission of the non-profit organization, a wide variety of skills and personnel may be needed to run it. Here are some common positions and the education required to obtain them.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that managers of social and community service organizations--many of whom work for non-profits--are projected to see job growth of 10% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported in May 2015 that the median annual salary for these workers was $63,530.

Executive Director

Executive directors head the organization and report directly to the board of directors. In January 2016, PayScale.com reported that executive directors of non-profit organizations earned salaries that ranged from $36,776 to $109,292 annually. While advancement from staff positions is possible, non-profits typically prefer that executive directors have at least a bachelor's degree. Public administration, business administration and finance are common undergraduate degrees. Many organizations require executives to have a master's degree in non-profit administration or public management. Add-on certificates in various areas of non-profit administration are available through community colleges and 4-year universities.

Coursework in non-profit administration focuses on:

  • Non-profit financial management
  • Board relations and governance
  • Public policy
  • Program design
  • Organizational management
  • Grant-writing

Finance and Fundraising Positions

Finance employees include accountants and auditors. A bachelor's degree in accounting is expected for these positions, as is knowledge of bookkeeping software. Some organizations require their accountants to have certified non-profit accounting professional (CNAP) accreditation.

Grant-writers and public relations staff work to secure funds for the organization, either by writing grants and proposals or by soliciting donors. Some university writing programs offer a concentration in grant-writing or public policy writing that would be beneficial to fund-development employees. Good interpersonal skills and confidence are important traits for people in public relations as well.

Program Delivery Positions

Most non-profits offer some sort of public service. Depending on the type of organization, these service programs can be very different and need staff with diverse backgrounds to administer them. An interest in working with people and good communication skills are essential, and many positions require a bachelor's degree. Some common areas of expertise for program staff are physical or art therapy, fitness or health education, teaching, psychology, nursing and social work. As of January 2016, program managers of non-profit organizations earned median annual salaries of $46,713, according to PayScale.com. The website also reported that earnings ranged from $33,828 to $69,115 during that time.

Non-profit managers typically need a diverse skill set to be able take on the necessities of the sector. There are emerging opportunities for those who are trained properly, as the position has a high projected growth rate. Although college and graduate degrees are important for the intellectual challenges of the job, communications skills remain the most critical aspect for maintaining relationships with the wide range of stakeholders that non-profits connect with.


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