How to Choose the Right MBA for a Nonprofit Management Career

Someone who intends to use an MBA degree to catapult him or herself into a leadership position at a nonprofit organizations should look for business schools that offer opportunities to complete class projects related to nonprofit work, B-school faculty say.

Jonathan Westover, an associate professor of organizational leadership at Utah Valley University’s Woodbury School of Business and the director of academic service learning in the university’s Office of Engaged Learning, says creativity in solving complex social problems and adaptability in response to change are key competencies for aspiring nonprofit managers.

[Read: MBA Programs Help Students Change the World.]

WIth this in mind, Westover recommends MBA hopefuls with an interest in nonprofits attend schools where they will have an abundance of nonprofit-oriented experiential learning opportunities. He also recommends prospective MBA students check their target business school’s curriculum to see if it includes courses in change management.

“Any practicum, any fieldwork, any internship, any service learning experience or community consulting type experience — all of those would be super helpful,” Westover says.

MBA professors who teach courses in nonprofit management say students with an interest in this discipline should look for courses on societal dilemmas they expect to confront as leaders of nonprofit organizations, such as hunger and poverty, disease epidemics and environmental pollution.

“So, for example, a student who is interested in solving environmental challenges (either in a social enterprise or a nonprofit) should look for access to classes with a practical specific orientation to solving environmental challenges,” Judith Chevalier, a professor at the Yale School of Management wrote in an email. “A student interested in theater management should be looking for access to classes in theater.”

Chevalier, who teaches a course at Yale about the strategic management of nonprofit organizations, says MBA applicants with an interest in a nonprofit career should look for evidence that a business school emphasizes and values nonprofit management.

“A prospective MBA student should look for coursework specific to nonprofits such as nonprofit strategy and nonprofit accounting,” she wrote.

Another key factor to consider, Chevalier suggests, is whether the school has a track record of placing MBA grads in nonprofit leadership roles and if it has clubs and extracurricular activities related to nonprofit careers. Two positive signs, she says, are when a school’s board includes leaders in the nonprofit sector and when its tenured faculty teach courses about nonprofits.

[Read: Board Fellows Programs Give M.B.A.’s Taste of Nonprofits.]

Rickard Briggs, the interim director of the MBA program at West Liberty University‘s Gary E. West College of Business in West Virginia, says that future nonprofit managers should aim to attend a B-school with multiple courses about how to run a nonprofit. “Generally, a student would seek out an MBA in nonprofit management which offers courses such as the ethical and legal guidelines for these organizations, as well as various strategies for nonprofit success,” he wrote in an email. “The core courses may build skills and knowledge in finance, HR, logistics and other essential business subjects.”

Experts say an MBA in nonprofit management can equip one to lead a variety of types of nonprofit organizations, including hospitals, charities and performing arts spaces.

“With an MBA in nonprofit management, you can work in areas such as health care, education and philanthropy,” Briggs explains. “You could choose to work at a small nonprofit organization, helping a community, or at an international relief organization working in several different countries. Some graduates pursue careers in consulting, while others seek out employment at a corporation to help coordinate charitable activities.”

Experts note that leading a nonprofit organization where the primary metric of success is social impact differs from running a for-profit company, where maximizing profit is usually the highest priority. Because of this distinction between nonprofit and for-profit management, it is essential for MBAs who want to become nonprofit managers to learn about how nonprofit organizations compare to for-profit organizations.

“In addition to an obligatory ‘introductory’ course addressing the nonprofit world — theory and practice of nonprofit management, for example — some areas of specialization are critical to the success of any individual choosing a program and career in this area,” Karen Silva, a professor and the chairperson of graduate programs at Johnson & Wales University‘s College of Business, wrote in an email.

Silva suggests MBA courses on ethics, communication, decision-making, problem-solving and leadership are essential for aspiring nonprofit managers, as are courses on “resource development,” which is when nonprofits work to increase their donations and volunteers.

Alexander McKelvie, associate dean for undergraduate and master’s education at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, says one sign of a solid MBA program for a nonprofit manager is when he or she is given the opportunity to take courses outside the business school in other parts of the university.

[Read: Why MBA Applicants Should Research Concentrations.]

“I would encourage students to check and see if there are other related elective classes offered on campus that may not reside within the MBA curriculum, such as public sector management,” McKelvie wrote in an email. “These might be housed in another college on campus, and students will want to know if their MBA curriculum has the flexibility to include those important courses that will help prepare them for nonprofit work.”

Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.

More from U.S. News

Consider Applying for These 4 Types of MBA Scholarships

7 Nontraditional Jobs for MBA Graduates

How to Get Into Multiple Top Business Schools

How to Choose the Right MBA for a Nonprofit Management Career originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up