Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Setting the Record Straight about Nonprofit-Focused Graduate Degrees

I believe there is a lot of confusion about nonprofit-focused master's degree programs and I hope that this blog post will set the record straight. There are many different types of master's degree programs that can be considered "nonprofit-focused" or "nonprofit education". These types include:
  • Master's of Nonprofit Administration
  • Master's of Public Administration
  • Master's of Social Work
  • Master’s of Business Administration
  • Master's of Public Policy
  • Master’s of Human Services
  • Master's of Arts in Philanthropic Studies
If you are interested in becoming an Executive Director of a nonprofit, then you should consider pursuing a stand-alone Master's of Nonprofit Administration (aka MNO/MNS/MNM/MS in NP). These master's degree programs offer core and elective courses in managing a nonprofit organization. These courses include: Nonprofit Management, Board Governance, Fundraising, Nonprofit Finance and Accounting, Capital Campaign and Development, Strategic Planning, Human Resources, etc.

If you are interested in studying the intersection between government and nonprofits, then you should consider pursuing a Master's of Public Administration (a.k.a MPSA, MPIA) with a Specialization in Nonprofit Management. These master's degree programs offer core courses in managing a governmental organization and offer elective courses in managing a nonprofit organization. Also some of these programs focus on NGO's (international nonprofit organizations).

If you are interested in becoming a nonprofit board member (or nonprofit manager) and studying earned revenue within nonprofits, then you should consider pursuing a Master's of Business Administration with a Specialization in Nonprofit Management. These master's degree programs offer core courses in managing a business and offer elective courses in managing a nonprofit organization.

If you are interested in directly working with clients and constituents on a daily basis and managing the programmatic side a nonprofit organizations, then you should consider pursuing a Master's of Social Work with a Specialization in Nonprofit Management. These master's degree programs offer core courses in social welfare and social change and offer elective courses in managing a nonprofit organization.

If you are interested in changing social policy related to nonprofit organizations, then you should consider pursuing a Master's of Public Policy (a.k.a. MA in PP, MPPA) with a Specialization in Nonprofit Management. These master's degree programs offer core courses in creating and changing public policy and offer elective courses in managing a nonprofit organization.

If you are interested in directly running human service organizations, then you should consider pursuing a Master's of Science in Human Services. These master's degree program offer core and elective courses in managing human and social services organizations.

Finally, if you are interested in studying philanthropic giving within nonprofit organizations, then you should consider pursuing a Masters of Arts in Philanthropic Studies. This master's degree program offers core and elective courses in philanthropic giving within nonprofit organizations and the sector.

Please note, these descriptions above are generalizations. You should ALWAYS visit a master's degree program website to see the specific courses offered within the program.

If you want to attend the BEST nonprofit-focused master's degree in the country you may not find it listed on the U.S. News and World Report website. They rank graduate schools -- not master's degree programs. They do rank top public affairs schools with nonprofit specializations and top business schools with nonprofit specializations but these rankings completely ignore stand-alone nonprofit master's degree programs or the other types of master's degrees I listed above.

Additionally, there are some nonprofit-focused master's degree programs that span 2-3 three different colleges/schools within a university.

Since I am studying master's degree programs associated with the Nonprofit Academic Center's Council (NACC) for my dissertation, I created a table of these 50+ master's degree programs.



NACC Member Center

Master’s degree associated with NACC Center

Arizona State University

Phoenix, AZ

ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

Masters of Nonprofit Studies

Baruch College, City University of New York

New York, NY

Center for Nonprofit Strategy and Management

Masters Public Administration (MPA) Specialization in Nonprofit Administration

Bay Path College

Longmeadow, MA

The Graduate School and Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy Program

MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy

Boston College

Boston, MA

Center on Wealth and Philanthropy

Masters of Social Work

Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH

Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations

Masters of Nonprofit Organizations & Executive Option

City University London

London, UK

Centre for Charity Effectiveness - Cass School of Business

PgDip/MSc in Voluntary Sector Management (post graduate diploma)

Cleveland State University

Cleveland, OH

Center for Nonprofit Policy & Practice

Master of Nonprofit Administration and Leadership

DePaul University

Chicago, IL

School of Public Service

Master of Nonprofit Management

George Mason University

Fairfax, VA

Nonprofit Management Studies

Masters of Public Administration (MPA) Concentration in Nonprofit Management

Georgetown University

Washington, D.C.

Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership - Georgetown Public Policy Institute

Masters in Public Policy/Policy Management (Nonprofit Policy and Leadership Track)

Georgia State University

Atlanta, GA

Nonprofit Studies Program - Andrew Young School of Public Policy Studies

Masters of Public Administration (MPA)-Nonprofit Administration/MPP-Nonprofit Policy

Grand Valley State University

Allendale, MI

Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership

Masters of Public Administration (MPA) with a concentration in Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Harvard University

Boston, MA

Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations

Indiana University

Indianapolis, IN & Bloomington, IN

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University

MA in Philanthropic Studies/MPA Nonprofit Management

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore. MD

Center for Civil Society Studies

Masters of Arts in Public Policy

Louisiana State University – Shreveport

Shreveport, LA

Institute for Human Services and Public Policy - College of Liberal Arts

Masters of Science in Human Services Administration

Mount Royal College

Calgary, AB Canada

Institute for Nonprofit Studies

No Masters Degree- Bachelors in Applied Nonprofit Studies

North Carolina State University

Raleigh, NC

Institute for Nonprofit Research, Education, & Engagement

Masters of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management

New York University

New York, NY

Public and Nonprofit Management & Policy Program - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Masters in Public Administration (MPA) in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy

New York University School of Law

New York, NY

National Center on Philanthropy and the Law

Three different nonprofit law related courses - does not offer Masters Degree

North Park University

Chicago, IL

Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management

Master of Nonprofit Administration

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

Center for Nonprofit Management - Kellogg School of Management


Notre Dame

Notre Dame, IN

Master of Nonprofit Administration Program - Mendoza College of Business

Master of Nonprofit Administration

Portland State University

Portland, OR

Institute for Nonprofit Management, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government

Master of Public Administration Specialization in Nonprofit Management

Queensland University of Technology

Brisbane, AU

Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies

Master of Business (Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies)

Regis University

Denver, Co

Global Nonprofit Leadership Development

Master of Nonprofit Management

Seattle University

Seattle, WA

Center for Nonprofit and Social Enterprise Management

Executive Master of Nonprofit Leadership

Seton Hall University

New Orange, NJ

Center for Public Service

Masters in Public Administration Concentration in Nonprofit Organization Management

Texas A&M University

College Station, TX

Program in Nonprofit Management - Bush School of Government and Public Service

Master of Public Service and Administration with Elective Concentration in Nonprofit Management

The New School

New York, NY

Graduate Management Programs - Nonprofit Management Program

Master of Science Degree in Nonprofit Management

The University of New South Wales

Sydney, AU

Centre for Social Impact

Graduate Certificate in Social Impact (No master’s degree)

University at Albany-SUNY

Albany, NY

Center for Women in Government & Civil Society - Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy

Master of Public Administration Concentration in Nonprofit Management

University of California-Berkeley

Berkeley, CA

Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership

MBA (Nonprofit Specialty)

University of California-Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

Center for Civil Society

Masters in Public Policy

University of Delaware

Newark, DE

Center for Community Research & Service

M.A. in Urban Affairs and Public Policy concentration in Community Development and Nonprofit Leadership

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, MI

Nonprofit and Public Management Center, School of Social Work

MPP with focus in Public and Nonprofit Management, MPA (same as MPP but accelerated program), MSW with practice method in management of human service organizations, MBA with electives in social enterprise

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN

The Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs

Master of Public Policy (MPP) with a concentration in public nonprofit leadership and management. Masters of Public Affairs with nonprofit courses

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Kansas City, MO

Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership - Henry W. Bloch School of Business and Public Administration

Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree with a concentration in nonprofit management

University of Missouri-St. Louis

St. Louis, MO

Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program

The Master of Public Policy Administration (MPPA)

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

Center for Community Partnerships - Penn Program for Public Service

Leadership for Social Change Masters Program

University of San Diego

San Diego, CA

Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research

MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management

University of San Francisco

San Francisco, CA

Nonprofit Management Program

Master of Nonprofit Administration

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA

Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy

Master of Public Administration/Master of Public Policy Specialization in Philanthropy and Nonprofits

University of St. Thomas

Minneapolis, MN

Center for Nonprofit Management

MBA with Elective Track (Specialization) in Nonprofit

University of Technology- Sydney

Sydney, AU

Centre for Australian Community Organisations and Management - School of Management

Master of Business

University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX

RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service

Master of Public Affairs Specialization in Nonprofit and Philanthropic Studies

University of Washington

Seattle, WA

Nancy Bell Evans Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy

Master of Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Milwaukee, WI

Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management

Master of Science in Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, VA

Institute for Policy and Governance

Master's of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) with a public and nonprofit management concentration (govt. and capacity building)/Masters of Public Administration (MPA)/Masters of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP)

York University

Toronto, ON

Nonprofit Management & Leadership Program - Schulich School of Business

MBA in Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Please note, this list is just a sample of the 160+ nonprofit-focused master's degree programs offered across the US and the world. For a complete listing, please visit Roseanne Mirabella's website.


Emily Davis, MNM said...

This is an awesome blog post - will be so helpful for working with my coaching clients, Heather. THANK YOU!

I have my Masters in Nonprofit Management from Regis University which was an AWESOME program for me. I started and ran a nonprofit and now I am looking at for-profit jobs. It's a little hard to translate my masters program experience into an MBA-like experience. Would love to hear others' thoughts on this if they are out there.


Unknown said...

Great post. I'm currently taking Bay Path courses online to get my MS in Nonprofit Management and Philanthropy. After one semester I can say I'm having a good experience.

Joelle said...

This is a great post. I have set myself on the path to becoming an Executive Director within a nonprofit organization. Before entering graduate school, I considered a degree in nonprofit management and public administration. However, I felt that it would limit my future work. Thus, I am currently pursuing an M.A. degree in International & Multicultural Education to focus my career to diversity within the sector. Also, as I continue to work the sector and work my "way up the ladder," I eventually plan to return and get my Doctorate in Organizational Leadership or Learning and Instruction. Those interested in nonprofit management roles do have other options!

Kimberlee Stiens said...

Wow, this is an incredible resource! You should see if you can get it posted on other non-profit blogs... its really awesome!

Mark said...

Thank you for the post. I believe you take a narrow view of the different options, especially the MBA programs. When I was considering graduate education, I looked at MS, MPA, and MBA programs. While I found many similarities among the programs and degrees, my decision was to pursue a MBA with a focus on nonprofit management as it translates for the for-profit sector and therefore provides me with flexibility in my career and it teaches you about business and management. We tend to think that nonprofits aren't businesses...but they are.

While more MS in Nonprofit Management programs may provide you with the classes tailored to the nonprofit experience, Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Management, HR and others functional area are all skills/functions you will find within a nonprofit and taught in MBA programs.

Also, MBA students who focus on nonprofit management are not doing so to learn to be future board members but to learn to be successful and effective managers/directors/executives of a nonprofit or to be a consultant to nonprofit organizations.

Finally, I would encourage individuals who are interested in a MBA and working for a nonprofit to identify those programs that really integrate the nonprofit experience into their core curricula and not just leave it for electives.

Professor Carpenter said...

@Joelle cool! I didn't know that type of degree was out there.

@Mark thanks for providing your perspective about MBA programs. Great points!

Camelia said...

What an awesome post! I just found your blog, and I wish I had found it sooner.

I am getting a Masters in Human Service Administration -- luckily I happened to stumble upon this program, but I wish I had a guide like this when I was looking at schools. Would have saved me months of stress and confusion!

John G said...

A great list and explanation of various degree programs. I want echo Mark's comment about MBA programs being valuable, but not all are the same.

I received an MBA from Case Western Reserve University with a concentration in nonprofit management and took courses with the students and faculty that were part of MNO program.

I would argue that there are only a handful of MBA programs that truly offer a nonprofit tract. You mention two, Northwestern and UC Berkley, I'd add Case Western and Stanford, and even University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Terrific summary, thank you!

MP said...

This is a fantastic resource. I hope to share it on my site with full credit and links to you. Thank you!

Will Hull said...

Great post on breaking it down. I just completed my Masters of Public Administration (MPA) with a Concentration in Nonprofit Management from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA (Washington, DC area). It was a great program, but the nonprofit management program doesn't allow for a lot of flexibility with your electives. It shaves two off of the four that you would normally have to have Intro to Nonprofit Management and Nonprofit Ethics, Law and Governance as two classes necessary in the program. It was a good program once I dove into the Nonprofit focus. I would recommend it for that. Also, it gives you a lot of flexibility with an MPA to go into the government sector or go in and out as you change jobs over your career.

I have heard it mentioned as a program with subject matter a mile wide and an inch deep. You get exposed to a lot of subject matter, but you don't go very deep into it. That is good because you can go deeper after school if you are interested.

I chose to go deeper into Program Evaluation and Performance Measurement (as a part of my methods courses, a.k.a. stats). I find it helps me think through a lot of what is happening today in the need for transparency in government and nonprofits in measuring true outcomes rather than outputs. Was the outcome meaningful in any way?

Please feel free to visit my portfolio Web site where I write more on nonprofit management and public administration in general at

Deborah Tucker said...

So much good information. I appreciate this site. As a nonprofit founder and ED, I would enjoy speaking with you directly, especially because today's economic environment is a very 'new curve' for all NPOs; especially where fundraising is concerned. I also be interested in seeing an updated (post 2008 list) picks for most influential/talents of NPOs. Thanks for sharing.

Devon Smith said...

I wanted to second many of the earlier comments that an MBA isn't just for nonprofit board members. I have an MBA (and an MFA in theatre management) from Yale University. I, and many of my classmates, are bound for management positions in a wide variety of nonprofit fields--from health care, to education, to arts, to public policy, to public finance, to the environment. Our current (though temporary) Dean, Sharon Oster, literally wrote the book on Non Profit Strategy. The school has a long history of affiliation with the nonprofit community, and nonprofit cases are included in nearly all of our core classes. Several MBA programs, Yale included, also offer 100% loan forgiveness for those working in a nonprofit post graduation, another important consideration when exploring graduate school options.