Online Nonprofit Leadership Degrees with Program Summaries

Dec 04, 2019

Research online nonprofit leadership courses and programs. Find our what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

Essential Information

Online nonprofit leadership programs are commonly available in the form of post-baccalaureate certificates and master's degrees. There are also online Ph.D. programs in this field, but these are rare. Curricula for these degrees and certificates can typically be completed entirely from the comfort of home. Some programs, however, include an internship component that students can complete at a site near their homes.

Instruction is usually offered asynchronously. Optional synchronous activities, such as discussion groups, might also be included as part of course content. In some cases, certificate programs offer courses through open enrollment, which allows students to not only begin instruction whenever it's convenient for them, but also to work at their own pace. Applicants must already have a bachelor's degree that meets minimum GPA requirements.

Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership

An online certificate program in nonprofit leadership is a short, focused series of classes that introduce the major financial, administrative and marketing aspects of managing a nonprofit organization. Professionals who already work with nonprofits might pursue the certificate in order to hone their management skills and advance their careers. Alternatively, individuals who work in the private sector and are interested in transitioning to nonprofit work might use the certificate program to gain awareness of the issues that managers of nonprofit organizations face.

Information and Prerequisites

Most certificate programs are designed for working professionals and require students to hold a bachelor's degree. However, some nonprofit leadership certificate programs are open to undergraduates and can be pursued in combination with a degree in a related field, such as business management. The duration of a certificate program varies according to each student's schedule, but most programs can be finished with 1-2 years of part-time work.

Common Classes

Coursework for a nonprofit leadership certificate is practical and vocational in nature, dealing with the financial, legal and human resources aspects of managing a nonprofit organization.

Nonprofits Introduction

Many schools offer an introduction to nonprofits as the first course in an online program sequence. Topics covered include basic accounting, federal tax requirements, public policy and the differences between nonprofit and corporation management. Some courses include a historical and global overview of the varying roles of nonprofit organizations.

Organization Management

Courses on nonprofit organizational management deal mainly with principles for acquiring, retaining and training staff members. Techniques for effectively interacting with board members and for attracting and managing volunteers are also discussed.


Online fundraising classes deal with the marketing and communications efforts that nonprofits commonly employ to raise funds from individuals and organizations. Techniques and topics covered include gift solicitation, special event management, ethics and donor management.

Grant Writing

Grants are a major source of revenue for many nonprofit organizations. In accordance with this fact, many online certificate programs include a course on assessing financial needs and crafting an effective grant proposal. Usually, the course also discusses how to administer and account for funds that are received.

Master's Degree in Nonprofit Leadership

Online master's degree programs in nonprofit leadership typically award a Master of Science. Some programs even offer additional concentrations in such areas as global studies or human services. Training in this field is also available through management or organizational leadership programs with a nonprofit leadership track.

Like post-baccalaureate certificates, these programs are designed for professionals working in the nonprofit sector who would like to advance their careers by improving their ability to raise funds and promote organizational services. Coursework is also appropriate for career changers and students who would like to start a new non-profit organization of their own.

Information and Prerequisites

Online nonprofit leadership master's degree programs require applicants to have earned a bachelor's degree with an acceptable GPA. In some cases, prior work experience is also required. Once enrolled, students will need to complete between 30 and 50 credit hours to earn their degree.

Common Classes

In addition to viewing lectures and completing reading assignments, students taking master's degree program coursework can get practical experience through class projects or case studies.

Human Resources Management

Human resources management courses teach students best practices for hiring, training and retaining paid employees. Students also learn how to conduct performance appraisals, manage conflict and promote diversity. Because nonprofits also rely on unpaid labor, these courses cover techniques for managing volunteer resources as well.

Financial Management

Courses covering accounting and budgeting techniques make up the core of any nonprofit management program. Topics of study include strategies for managing a nonprofit's financial statements, cash flow and endowments. Students also learn how to forecast revenue, control operating expenses and perform audits.

Marketing and Promotions

In addition to program branding, nonprofit promotions courses typically address techniques for using the mass media as well as other traditional and nontraditional resources to target supporters and the public at large.

Strategic Planning

These courses discuss the need for a nonprofit organization to implement planning strategies designed to help it meet organizational goals and fulfill its mission. Topics of discussion can cover collaboration and coordination strategies or the impacts of globalization on planning.

Career Information

An online certificate in nonprofit leadership could be used to by individuals already working in the nonprofit sector to leverage managerial positions and advance their careers. Program graduates who have related work experience and a bachelor's degree in such fields as communication, public relations or social work could enter careers as fundraising managers or social and community service managers at a nonprofit.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), public relations and fundraising managers were expected to experience a 8% growth in employment opportunities between 2018 and 2028. As of May 2018, they earned an average salary of $114,800. Social and community services managers, on the other hand, could see a 13% job growth, thanks in large part to the growing demand among older adults for services offered by these organizations. Social and community services managers earned an average salary of $65,320.

While graduates of nonprofit management master's degree programs have many of the same job opportunities available to those completing certificates, students who've earned an M.A. or M.S. might be able to get a leg up over applicants with only a post-baccalaureate certificate.

Continuing Education Information

Master's degree program graduates can also consider continuing their education in a doctoral program designed to prepare them for teaching or research positions. However, online programs at this level are extremely rare. On-campus programs with a specialization in this field are more common.

Individuals who have already achieved a bachelor's degree and are either hoping to hone their skills in nonprofit work or make a career transition may choose to enroll in an online master's or certificate program in nonprofit leadership. Careers in the nonprofit industry are growing steadily and employers will likely be impressed by a more advanced degree.

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