Best Master's Degrees in Nonprofit Management

Mar 31, 2021

What Is a Master's in Nonprofit Management Degree?

A master's degree in nonprofit management is one of the best graduate degrees for nonprofit work, as these programs provide students with knowledge and skills specific to nonprofits, but also further develop students' leadership and management abilities. Graduates of these programs work in diverse positions and can usually advance their careers. Master's programs in nonprofit management are usually available as Master of Nonprofit Management or Master of Arts (MA) in Nonprofit Management degrees. However, other related degrees, such as Master of Management or Master in Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in nonprofit management are available, as well as degrees in areas that are combined with nonprofit management, like a Master of Science (MS) in Nonprofit Management and Social Entrepreneurship. Get more details about some of the more general characteristics of these master's degree programs.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Nonprofit Management

Applicants to master's programs in nonprofit management are not required to have a bachelor's degree in any particular field. However, it may be common for applicants to already have a background and experience in the field of public affairs or business. They could hold degrees in areas such as business administration, management, public administration, or nonprofit management. Students in these bachelor's degree programs will enter nonprofit management with an idea of the needed management and business skills and how organizations work.

Admissions Requirements for Nonprofit Management Master's Programs

Master's degree programs in nonprofit management are usually designed for those in nonprofit management looking to advance their career or for professionals looking to switch fields and start working in the nonprofit sector. With that said, many programs do not require applicants to have prior work experience for admission to the program; however, applicants do typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree. Some programs will accept transfer credit for a few graduate-level credits if students took classes somewhere else. Depending on the program, students may need to meet a minimum GPA requirement, such as a 3.0 or higher, and several programs do not require the GRE. Students are often encouraged to apply about a month prior to the start date of the program, which may be in the fall, spring, or summer. Applications commonly require students to include their transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal essay or statement of interest, a resume, and/or a writing sample.

How to Choose a Master's in Nonprofit Management Program

Students choosing a master's degree program in nonprofit management should first consider their ultimate career goals. Students interested specifically in nonprofit management should pursue an MA or Master of Nonprofit Management, while those wanting a broader degree in management or public administration may pursue a Master of Management or MPA, respectively. After deciding which degree to earn, students should compare unique features of the program, such as hands-on learning opportunities, projects, available electives, and programs that follow cohort models. Other students may want programs that offer additional support resources, such as individual advising or mentoring opportunities.

Master's in Nonprofit Management Program Accreditation

Typically, master's degree programs, including those in nonprofit management, are offered from regionally accredited schools. This means that the institution, as a whole, has met general academic standards that help ensure that all the degree programs, no matter the subject or degree level, are of sound quality. Usually, only students at accredited institutions are eligible for financial aid and credit transfers. There are some master's programs and other degree levels that have program-level accreditation in addition to this general accreditation. This accreditation is subject-specific, often looks good to potential employers, and is awarded from organizations related to the field. For nonprofit management programs, there is at least one program that has been accredited by the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council. Although it is not accreditation, some nonprofit management programs have courses that have additional credentials, such as approval as a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) International Approved Course.

Nonprofit Management Master's Degree Courses

Master's degree programs in nonprofit management commonly require around 36 to 38 credits of coursework, but some programs can require as much as 70 credits of coursework. Generally, programs are designed to be completed in about 16 to 24 months, but longer programs that require 70 credits may take between 2.5 and 3 years to complete. Many of these programs are offered in a part-time format, and some follow a cohort model. Depending on the format, students can take on-campus, hybrid, or online nonprofit management classes. Usually, students take some core nonprofit management classes and electives. Some programs include a culminating experience and hands-on learning opportunities. Explore the possible courses that students can take in these master's programs below.

Nonprofit Management Foundational Courses

Core courses in nonprofit management master's degree programs are intended to give students an overview of nonprofit concepts and processes, as well as the technical skills used specifically in the field, such as grant writing. Students also take courses that further develop their leadership, decision-making, and management skills. Some of these programs conclude with a final capstone experience, which typically requires a project of some sort. For example, students may be required to complete a final consultancy project that allows them to apply the knowledge they have gained from the program as they analyze a real-world problem for an organization and provide possible solutions. Other core courses include topics such as:

  • Nonprofit financial management
  • Grant proposal writing
  • Managing nonprofit organizations
  • Statistics and research design
  • Legal issues with nonprofit organizations
  • Fundraising
  • Marketing and communication for nonprofit organizations
  • Public governance
  • Community development

Nonprofit Management Specialist & Elective Courses

Many master's programs in nonprofit management include elective courses that help students further explore areas of interest and/or better prepare for a specific career. Some programs allow students to choose from a given list of electives, while others allow students to choose courses from broad interest areas, such as policy, marketing and development, community development planning, equity/social justice, and more. Several programs only require between 6 and 9 credits of electives, while longer programs can include up to 20 credits of electives. Some other elective course topics include:

  • Financial management
  • Applied nonprofit management
  • International business
  • Managerial economics
  • Education and social services
  • Social enterprise

Licensure & Certification in Nonprofit Management

Licensure and certification for positions in the field of nonprofit management vary by position and are usually voluntary. Students can pursue these professional certifications to demonstrate their expertise in their field and stay competitive in the job market. Certifications are usually specific to the type of position. For instance, public relations managers can become certified with the Public Relations Society of America after meeting the experience and education requirements and passing an exam. Fundraising managers can also complete the Certified Fund Raising Executive program from the CFRE International. This certification also requires passing an exam and professionals must renew the certification every 3 years. Professionals who specialize in communications can pursue credentials from organizations such as the International Association of Business Communicators.

Internships in Nonprofit Management Master's Program

To help students prepare for working in the real world, some master's programs in nonprofit management require, and others provide an optional internship experience. Some programs tie this internship with a professional development course that is designed to help students think about their future careers and set career goals. The internship portion then gives students the opportunity to explore some of these goals, apply skills they are learning, network with professionals, and gain hands-on experience. Students also further develop their leadership and management skills during these experiences. Some programs offer these internships as pass/fail and only require them for students who have less than 2 years of professional work experience.

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Nonprofit Management

Students wishing to continue their studies at the doctoral level often need to study nonprofit management as a concentration. For instance, students can pursue Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in areas such as leadership studies or human services with a concentration in nonprofit management, as well as degrees like a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Some of these degree programs are available in an online format and can take as few as 3 years to complete.

What Can I Do with a Nonprofit Management Master's Degree?

Graduates with their master's degree in nonprofit management are typically prepared and qualified to take on a wide range of business-related positions, commonly in the nonprofit sector. For instance, students may become a nonprofit payroll specialist or a nonprofit financial analyst. They are also prepared to take on more advanced leadership and management positions in areas such as marketing, finance, human resources, operations, and more. Some graduates may hold additional degrees in other fields, but obtain their master's to help lead their nonprofit organization. Graduates can work in the public or private sectors, but those in nonprofit organizations may work for groups including a faith-based organization, social enterprise, non-governmental organization, or mission agency. Other potential job titles for graduates include:

  • Public relations manager
  • Fundraising manager
  • Communications specialist
  • Statewide coordinator
  • Campaign manager
  • Project manager
  • Grant proposal manager
  • Chief executive officer (CEO) of nonprofit organization

Job Outlook for a Master's in Nonprofit Management

In general, due to the flexibility of a master's degree in nonprofit management to prepare students for an array of possible careers, the job outlook for graduates is positive. Many businesses and organizations are looking for strong leaders to help take their organization to the next level. The specific job outlook for different positions can vary based on a number of factors, including location and industry. Several positions for graduates with their master's in nonprofit management have as fast as the average or above average job outlooks. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the job outlook for top executives is 4% from 2019 to 2029. This is as fast as the average, but positions like public relations and fundraising managers had job outlooks much faster than the average. The BLS stated that the job outlook for these managers is 9% over the same decade.

How to Become a Public Relations and Fundraising Manager

Depending on the position, most public relations and fundraising managers need to hold at least a bachelor's degree, but some managers are required to have a master's degree. These managers can have a background in a variety of fields, including nonprofit management, public relations, communications, fundraising, and other related areas. It is also important for public relations and fundraising managers to have prior work experience, usually at least several years. They may begin their careers as public relations specialists or other entry-level positions. Relevant professional certifications are available in several different areas, including communications, public relations, and fundraising. These certifications usually require an exam and are voluntary.

Public relations managers focus on creating and maintaining the image of their client or organization, while fundraising managers focus on securing funding and donations for their organization. Public relations managers create a communications plan to allow their clients to connect with the public, oversee staff, and write press releases. Fundraising managers work to find potential donors, apply for grants, and manage staff members. As of 2019, according to the BLS, public relations and fundraising managers made a median annual salary of $116,180.

How to Become a Top Executive

Top executives include a wide range of positions for graduates with a background in nonprofit management, including CEOs, operations managers, city managers, presidents, managing directors, and more. These advanced positions usually require at least a bachelor's degree, but master's degrees are common. Executives can have a background in a range of subjects, including public administration, business administration, and other related areas. Like public relations and fundraising managers, these executives also typically need several years of work experience, usually in their given field. It is common for top executives to begin their careers in lower-level management positions and work their way up.

Job duties for top executives vary based on factors like position, employer, and even the size of the organization. In general, top executives work to set goals for an organization and figure out ways to help meet those goals. They may adjust procedures, oversee the budget, approve contracts, examine performance indicators, and strategize ways to make improvements. Per the BLS, as of 2019, top executives made a median annual salary of $103,230.

Master's in Nonprofit Management Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

Paying for one's education can be a challenge, but many different resources are available to students, including awards specific to nonprofit management. Undergraduate and graduate students alike should always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to check their eligibility for state and federal loans and grants. Then, students can begin to explore additional grant and scholarship options through schools and outside organizations that may be awarded based on a number of factors, such as merit, financial need, interests, and talents. Something to keep in mind is that loans have to be repaid, while grants and scholarships typically do not. A couple of examples of schools that offer master's degree programs in the field of nonprofit management and scholarships to help students pay for their education include:

  • University of Wisconsin Milwaukee- The university's Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management offers the Nonprofit Management and Leadership Scholarship Fund for students in the school's Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management or the MS in Nonprofit Management and Leadership degree program. The award is given based on financial need and academic merit and applicants must submit a copy of their transcripts. The scholarship amount varies.
  • University of Baltimore- The University of Baltimore has the Public Affairs Dean's Scholarship for graduates students in the College of Public Affairs, which houses the MS in Nonprofit Management and Social Enterprise program. Students must talk to an admissions counselor to check their qualifications and apply.
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