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Should MBAs Work in the Nonprofit Sector?

MBAs are only concerned about earning a lot of money.

That’s what people think, right? It’s a common misconception.

The truth is that many MBAs are going into careers where they can affect social change. While the nonprofit sector might not be the most obvious career choice for grads, it’s a valid one. In fact, a recent study of MBA industry preferences placed the nonprofit sector in the top ten.

Nonprofits allow MBAs the opportunity to utilize their skills to solve social problems. It’s an intellectually stimulating work environment with complex business problems that change on a daily basis. An MBA can gain experience in a variety of different areas, from securing funding for a large-scale project to trying to understand the impact of their finances on program outcomes.

Nonprofits also attract MBAs because of their stable hours, excellent benefits, and flexible work schedule.

Graduating with your MBA doesn’t stop you from going on to do good works in nonprofit companies; it prepares you for it. Just like any large Fortune 500, nonprofit organizations need MBAs to help them survive in today’s economy. An MBA is the most versatile advanced degree that you can get, and it can make a big difference in the nonprofit sector.

How Can an MBA Impact the Nonprofit Sector?

First, it’s vital that you realize that calling something a nonprofit does not mean it’s a small business. The biggest charities in the U.S., such as United Way and Feeding America, make over two billion in donations a year. They’re massive operations that could use an MBA.

In fact, around 10-12% of Habitat for Humanity’s staff has an MBA; that’s because an MBA can help a nonprofit refocus their efforts for efficiency, resource allocation, budget management, and funding.

MBAs are also beneficial thanks to their well-rounded education. They have experience in policy analysis and implementation, decision modeling, cost-benefit analysis, and management. All of these skills can be easily applied to the nonprofit world, regardless of the particular mission of the organization. MBAs round out core competencies, which compliments institutional knowledge with sharp quantitative and analytical skills.

“MBAs bring hard skills like financial know-how to NFF, but that’s not all,” Gill said in a recent interview with Commongood Careers. “They also bring a really sharp understanding of teams and how to access resources that aren’t always obvious. The MBA degree is incredibly broad and teaches people how to approach problems from different angles.”

Other skills that MBAs offer include the ability to:

  • Bring internal organizational change and growth.
  • Maintain and develop processes and structures.
  • Develop strong relationships and communicate effectively.
  • Quickly understand clients and funders.
  • Offer analytical expertise that includes management, leadership, and scalability.
  • Create a more operational and streamlined culture focused on efficiency.

However, working for a nonprofit isn’t all daisies and roses. MBAs have some specific concerns. 

Compensation

Unfortunately, a desire to change the world isn’t always enough. MBAs from top programs in the country can walk away with more than $100,000 in debt. That’s a harrowing figure and a significant consideration when choosing a career path. According to the Wall Street Journal, Yale graduates entering the Nonprofit industry started with an average salary of $80,000—33% less than their classmates who chose Consulting ($120,000 a year). Making $40,000 less a year can make a big difference when paying off student loan debt.

Solution: The good news is that some universities now offer funds to match a portion of a nonprofit’s salary to help offset student loans. In other cases, nonprofits attempt to make up for their lower salaries with other compensation including greater management responsibilities or more senior titles.

Expectations

Some MBAs feel that they won’t be able to make as much of a difference at a nonprofit organization as they would at a bigger business. The truth is that there’s less information available about what it’s like to work for a nonprofit, and MBAs can falsely assume that they’ll end up with a business that is disorganized and completely lacks business best practices.

Solution: The best thing an MBA can do is talk with each nonprofit to clearly understand their culture and the opportunities available. Nonprofits can offer you commitment, creativity, and flexibility that’s highly desirable.

Where to go to School

If your goal is to become a manager in the nonprofit sector after graduating with your MBA, then you want to head to the right program. The U.S. News recently ranked the Best Business Schools for Nonprofit MBAs in 2017. The top 10 programs are:

  1. Yale University
  2. Harvard Business School
  3. Stanford University Graduate School of Business
  4. Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley
  5. Kellogg School of Business at Northwester University
  6. Duke University
  7. Colombia Business School
  8. University of Michigan
  9. Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University
  10. Anderson School of Business at UCLA

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