Earning a Master's in Nonprofit Management Online

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In 2016, more than 1.6 million nonprofits operated in the U.S., with each requiring at least one skilled manager to help the organization raise money, design and evaluate programs, and build connections within the community. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for social and community service managers to grow by 18% between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate of growth nearly three times the national average.

Earning a master's in nonprofit management online can help position you to take advantage of these new job opportunities. This page provides an overview of a typical degree track and the career paths you can follow after graduation. It also offers tips on how to help pay for your education.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Nonprofit Management?

Some students pursue a master's in nonprofit management online immediately after earning their bachelor's degree. However, most individuals spend several years working at a nonprofit organization or government agency before deciding to continue their education at the graduate level.

A master's in nonprofit management can qualify you for executive-level positions, such as chief operating officer or deputy director. Depending on the electives you choose, an advanced degree can also prepare you for more specialized roles.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Nonprofit Management?

Pursuing Specialization

You may decide to seek out a master's in nonprofit management to develop the skills and knowledge needed for a specific career path. For example, earning an advanced degree with a concentration in public policy can prepare you for a job advocating for increased funding at K-12 schools. Similarly, you can specialize in program design, learning to work independently as a nonprofit consultant and help clients launch initiatives that meet the needs of their communities.

Career Advancement Opportunities

While you may qualify for some nonprofit management jobs with just a bachelor's degree and relevant work experience, supervisory roles at larger organizations often require a master's. Some organizations may also allow you to substitute an advanced degree for experience, helping you qualify for senior-level positions earlier in your career. Finally, a master's degree can give you leverage to negotiate a promotion or salary increase with your current employer.

Online Learning Technology

Online learning requires a fundamental understanding of how to use technology and the ability to collaborate across distances -- two skills that can also benefit a nonprofit career. For example, if you take on a role leading a healthcare organization's education outreach efforts, you can likely apply some of the same tools used during your master's studies to help audiences around the world learn about disease prevention.

Prerequisites for Online Nonprofit Management Programs

While admission requirements vary from program to program, you can review common prerequisites for an online master's in nonprofit management below.

    • Work Experience: Master's in nonprofit management programs generally do not require that applicants possess work experience to apply. However, most do request that you submit a resume as part of your application materials; a strong professional background can help you gain admission.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Not all programs require applicants to submit entrance exam scores, but schools that do require test scores often request results from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). If you received a high score on the GRE, you should consider submitting your results even if not required.
    • Coursework: While you must hold a bachelor's degree to apply, master's programs in nonprofit management rarely require you to complete specific coursework during college. Regardless of your undergraduate major, however, you typically need to hold a certain GPA -- usually 3.0 or higher -- to qualify for admission.
    • Recommendations: You should plan to submit at least two letters of recommendation from former employers, professors, or volunteer leaders. Try and reach out to potential recommenders at least two months in advance of application deadlines and send them your resume and any necessary instructions.
    • Essays: Many programs require applicants to submit a personal essay explaining why they want to pursue a master's degree in nonprofit management. You should plan to write an essay consisting of roughly 1,000 words, although exact requirements vary.
    • Interviews: Generally speaking, online schools do not require students to participate in admissions interviews, although residential programs often do. If your school requests an interview, take advantage of the opportunity to provide additional context regarding your application. You can conduct a mock interview with a friend or colleague to get comfortable answering questions about your background and professional goals.
    • International Students: International students must meet all of the same requirements as domestic students. In addition, many schools require applicants from non-English speaking countries to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language. International students may also need to independently verify transcripts from foreign colleges and universities.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Nonprofit Management?

According to the BLS, the median social and community service manager earned $64,100 in May 2017 -- roughly twice the median salary for all other occupations. Managers with salaries in the lowest 10% earned less than $39,730, while those with salaries in the highest 10% earned more than $109,990.

Earning your master's in nonprofit management online can also prepare you for other career paths. For example, you can take a series of electives in health policy and healthcare administration if you want to work as the executive director of a community health clinic. The BLS reports that medical and health services managers earned a median salary of $98,350 in 2017, which was significantly more than the average nonprofit manager.

Traditional Careers for MNM's

Career Stats Description

Nonprofit Finance Manager

Median Pay: $125,080

Job Growth: 19%

Nonprofits employ these financial executives to maintain regulations and the overall financial health of an organization. Professionals in this role often lead a team and/or direct the board on financial decisions. These professionals usually work in an office.

Ideal for: Financially minded professionals comfortable with providing financial analytics and advice.

Fundraising Manager

Median Pay: $111,280

Job Growth: 10%

Fundraising managers lead campaigns and events aimed at generating revenue for their organizations. They may serve as frontline fundraisers, soliciting potential donors themselves, or oversee a larger fundraising team. Some fundraising managers work to secure institutional grants rather than individual gifts.

Ideal for: Those with the communication and interpersonal skills necessary to clearly articulate an organization's mission and its need for additional funding.

Event/Program Director

Median Pay: $65,998

Job Growth: 11%

Event directors plan and execute all aspects of events and professional meetings, including arranging for a venue, transportation, catering, and often the programming of the event itself. In the nonprofit world, event directors often coordinate fundraising events, such as galas or charity races. Some event directors work for a particular venue, while others act as independent consultants.

Ideal for: Those who pay exceptional attention to detail, communicate well with others, and thrive in deadline-driven environments.

Nonprofit Management Analyst

Median Pay: $82,450

Job Growth: 14%

Management analysts recommend methods to improve an organization's efficiency. For nonprofit organizations, this may entail replacing personnel, trimming the number of services offered to the community, or fundamentally shifting the organization's mission to meet a new need.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills. Management analysts should also work well independently -- many only work with a particular organization for a limited period of time.

Non-Traditional Careers for MNM's

Career Stats Description

Political or Legislative Analyst

Median Pay: $115,110

Job Growth: 3%

Political and legislative analysts usually work for government agencies or large nonprofit organizations. They monitor policy developments, conduct research on public opinion, and recommend courses of action to government officials and community leaders. These roles often require a master's degree with coursework related to statistical or policy analysis.

Ideal for: People who want to work in a more advocacy-focused role (rather than a service-focused role). Analysts should also possess excellent research and writing skills.

Nonprofit App Developer

Median Pay: $106,710

Job Growth: 24%

App developers create programs that allow computers and devices to perform specific tasks. Although app developers do not tend to work exclusively within the nonprofit space, many count nonprofit organizations among their clients or offer pro bono services to local charities as part of community outreach efforts. As an example, a nonprofit app might help parents better communicate with teachers at local schools.

Ideal for: Those with an academic or professional background in information technology, specifically in a field like computer programming or software engineering.

Union Organizer

Median Pay: $51,377

Job Growth: N/A

Union organizers bring together workers at a particular firm or within a particular industry to collectively bargain for improved working conditions and wages. Union organizers might also conduct political advocacy, pushing for broad changes to state or federal policies related to unions and their members. Some unions, like the AFL-CIO, represent workers from a variety of industries.

Ideal for: Individuals with an interest in politics, especially at the grassroots level. Organizers must know how to communicate effectively in one-on-one settings and in front of large crowds.

Public Health Administrator

Median Pay: $98,350

Job Growth: 20%

Public health administrators coordinate the efforts of community health clinics, government health agencies, and other organizations dedicated to improving the health of the public. They provide administrative oversight to these organizations and play a role in the design and evaluation of community health programming.

Ideal for: Those with experience in healthcare or medicine. Public health administrators should possess a combination of domain-specific knowledge and strong management skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Nonprofit Management

Tuition varies greatly from program to program. To try and save money, consider attending a program offered at a public university in your home state. These institutions often provide significant tuition discounts to local students. You can also seek out state and federal aid, need-based grants, and subject-specific scholarships. Additionally, joining an accelerated program can help you graduate sooner and pay less in tuition. However, exercise caution when considering a fast track program -- some students become overwhelmed by the pace of their studies.

Tuition Timelines

In most programs, individuals pursuing a master's in nonprofit management online can elect to complete their studies as full-time or part-time students. Some programs also offer accelerated courses of study.

Part-Time Path

Ideal for working professionals, a part-time path to an online master's in nonprofit management offers bonus flexibility. By taking only one or two classes each term, part-time students can usually earn an advanced degree in fewer than four years.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Northeastern University
Total Credits Required: 40
Summary: Part-time students in this program usually finish their degree in three or four years. By taking classes at their own pace, students can schedule their learning around personal and professional obligations. Tuition rates at Northeastern may change annually.

Full-Time Path

Studying on a full-time basis, most students earn their master's in nonprofit management in two years or less. The exact time to completion depends on a program's individual credit requirements and a student's previously completed graduate-level coursework.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Arizona State University
Total Credits Required: 33-38
Summary: Arizona State University estimates that the majority of full-time students in this program graduate in two years or less. The school's per-credit tuition rate includes program fees, and out-of-state students do not pay higher rates. Tuition may increase over the course of a student's studies.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated pathways offer students the opportunity to earn their degrees more quickly, usually by taking multiple courses at the same time, testing out of certain subjects, and/or working through course material at a faster pace than traditional programming. Students pursuing an accelerated degree can often graduate in 12-15 months.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Johnson and Wales University
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: Johnson and Wales offers many courses in an asynchronous and self-paced learning format, allowing students to advance through material once they demonstrate an understanding of key concepts. Students following this accelerated track can graduate with their master's in just 15 months.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to federal and school-specific aid, make sure to research scholarships targeting students pursuing a master's degree in nonprofit management or a related public service field, such as the awards described below.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Nonprofit Management Program

In an online master's program in nonprofit management, you can expect to begin your studies by completing core coursework in areas like fiscal management, resource development, and program evaluation. Many programs offer students the opportunity to specialize in a particular area by selecting a formal concentration or by taking elective classes covering subjects like strategic social media communication or leadership within a global context. Depending on the path you select, you can earn your degree in less than two years.

Major Milestones

  1. Enrollment - Roughly two years before graduation

    Many master's programs allow students to begin their course of study at one of several dates throughout the year. This can make it easier for professionals to schedule their coursework around busy seasons and deadlines.

  2. Completing Core Coursework - Roughly 12 months before graduation

    During the first year of a master's program in nonprofit management, you can expect to complete core coursework in areas like organizational leadership, human resources management, and board governance.

  3. Completing Elective Coursework - Roughly six months before graduation

    Elective classes allow you to customize your learning in preparation for specific careers. Nonprofit management students often take elective coursework related to strategic planning, sustainable community development, and social entrepreneurship.

  4. Completing Internship - Shortly before graduation

    While not always required, many programs encourage students to complete an internship at a local nonprofit organization. Internships usually take place during the second year of a program.

  5. Completing Capstone Project - Shortly before graduation

    In a capstone course, you apply your graduate learning to a practical issue. For example, you may use your knowledge of resource development to create a new fundraising strategy for a homeless shelter in your community.

  6. Graduation - When all graduation requirements are met

    After completing your capstone project and earning all of the course credits required by your program, you formally earn your master's degree in nonprofit management.

Coursework

While your individual course of study varies depending on the program and electives you choose, students pursuing a master's in nonprofit management often complete many of the same classes, including those described below.

Introduction to the Nonprofit Sector

This course provides a broad introduction to many of the concepts you can expect to encounter during your graduate studies, including nonprofit governance, resource development, marketing and communications for social causes, and the legal framework for nonprofit entities.

Ethics and Social Justice

All leaders should understand how to navigate ethical dilemmas. In this course, students examine the philosophy of ethics and apply it to actual ethical challenges. Students also use data to better understand issues related to economic disparity, privilege, and power.

Applied Research and Evaluation Methods

This course helps students develop invaluable skills in data collection, analysis, and interpretation. Students explore both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Grantwriting

In this course, students learn to identify possible sources of institutional funding, write succinct and persuasive grant proposals, and create and adhere to a program budget. The course also covers writing reports, conducting assessments, and applying for government funding.

Transformative Change in a Global Environment

This class examines issues related to working across borders and within different legal and cultural contexts. Students use case studies to better understand the challenges faced by leaders of these organizations.

Requirements to Practice

Social and community service managers typically need at least a bachelor's degree and several years of experience in the field, although some positions also require a master's degree. Generally speaking, nonprofit professionals do not need a license to practice; however, some may voluntarily seek out certifications to demonstrate their expertise in a particular area or gain a competitive edge in the job market. You can find examples of a few prominent certifications below.

    • Certified Nonprofit Professional: Offered by the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, this credential recognizes exceptional leaders in the nonprofit sector. To become certified, you must hold a bachelor's degree, complete a series of online courses in subjects like cultural competency and community relations, and log at least 300 hours of professional experience.
    • Certified Fundraising Executive: Endorsed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and administered by an independent certification board, this credential helps candidates gain expertise and experience in fundraising and resource development. Applicants must meet educational and work requirements and pass a 200-question exam.
    • Nonprofit Technology Professional Certificate: Designed to help nonprofit information technology professionals distinguish themselves in the job market, individuals interested in this certification must complete a 10-week training program covering topics like digital storytelling and IT security fundamentals. The program costs $2,000, and participants can join a fall or spring cohort.
    • Certified Nonprofit Accounting Professional: This certification provides additional training related to critical financial topics in the nonprofit world, including submitting Form 990s and supporting independent organizational audits. To earn this credential, you must complete an in-person training program or a seven-week online course. The online course costs $775.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Along with earning your master's in nonprofit management online, joining a professional organization can significantly improve your job prospects and earning potential. These groups create networking opportunities by arranging national conferences and regional events, promote ongoing professional learning through online and in-person education programs, and offer helpful career advice to aspiring nonprofit managers. They may also advertise employment opportunities on job boards and provide special discounts or perks to members.

  • Alliance for Nonprofit Management: The Alliance works to increase the effectiveness of individuals and organizations working within the nonprofit space. It organizes an annual capacity-building conference and smaller events throughout the country.
  • National Council of Nonprofits: This organization offers resources to and advocates on behalf of registered nonprofits around the country. Its website provides information on starting a nonprofit, writing grants, and navigating nonprofit tax law.
  • National Association of Nonprofit Professionals: NANPP represents more than 11 million professionals across the U.S. working at nonprofit organizations. Members gain access to professional consultations, leadership development programs, and scholarships for nonprofit employees seeking to continue their education.
  • Society for Nonprofits: For more than 30 years, the Society for Nonprofits has served as a capacity-building organization for nonprofit managers. It publishes scholarly articles and best practice guides, and its members receive access to informal training webinars and formal certificate education programs.
  • Association of Fundraising Professionals: AFP serves as the leading professional organization for fundraisers. In addition to professional development and career resources, the association established a widely respected ethical framework for professional fundraisers.
  • Federal Student Aid: As the first step to financing your master's in nonprofit management, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out the FAFSA can qualify you for federal grants and low-interest student loans.
  • The Wallace Foundation: In addition to its grantmaking activities, the Wallace Foundation hosts a nonprofit knowledge center that offers students free access to reports, tools, and infographics on subjects in education and the arts.
  • GuideStar: GuideStar hosts copies of financial and tax information for every registered nonprofit in the country. This site may prove useful to students conducting academic research or nonprofit professionals looking for possible funding sources.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab: Whether assembling a master's thesis or a grant proposal, nonprofit students and managers should know how to write well. The Purdue OWL serves as a comprehensive resource on writing.
  • Idealist.org: Graduates can search this website to find jobs at nonprofit organizations or social service agencies. The site hosts thousands of job listings and organizes career fairs for students looking to promote the public good.