Nonprofit Career Profile: Program Management

Program management offers focused and dedicated people the chance to plan and implient an organization’s constituent-facing activities in a variety of ways.  With titles ranging from literacy program coordinator to director of enrollment and beyond, no matter the issue that you are most passionate about, program management positions provide the opportunity to meaningfully and directly impact a community.

What to Expect

Just as nonprofits reach out to serve millions of people in millions of different ways, the program management position spans a broad range of responsibilities and opportunities. Nonprofit program managers work closely to carry out an organization’s mission, coordinating objectives, strategies, and goals to manage efficient, well-run projects that have high impact on the communities the programs target.

Hal Phillips, for example, is the Director of Out of School Time Programs at Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses and works to reach the organization’s goals of providing services that enhance the educational environment for young people and expand their educational experience.
In a typical day, Phillips said he oversees two sites Federated Dorchester runs, making sure that his organization is able to provide safe, quality programs to students.  He makes sure that there are meaningful connections between Federated Dorchester, the students’ homes, and the students’ schools. 

“It helps that the job is challenging,” Phillips said, noting that enthusiasm for and devotion to the mission are two of the most important parts of his job.  “Every day I get up and say ‘How can I make someone smile today and really show them that they mean something to me?’ …It’s very rewarding work,” he said. 

Skills and Qualifications

Because of the mission-specific nature of the position, responsibilities vary from organization to organization.  However, there are some basic skills that nonprofit program managers need to cultivate to be effective and get results.  Strong organizational and time-management skills are a must-have for any aspiring program manager.  With many projects to sustain and many contacts to maintain, being an organized and self-directed person is a necessity.

Keeping in touch with people who have various relationships to the organization is also a large part of the program management position.  Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to be an effective communicator are important.  Related to this is the need for well-developed leadership ability.  All nonprofits need to make sure that the people working within the organization are connected so that they can reach out to the community effectively.  As a program manager, individuals are generally required to have relationships with staff and communicate with internal heads of projects and other office leaders, often collaborating on projects and evaluating programs.

Another, exceptionally important qualification is a demonstrated dedication to the hiring organization’s mission, often shown through other work, nonprofit, or volunteer experience.  Additionally, experience with managing a budget or some knowledge of finances is often desired in the ideal candidate for the program management position. 

In order to better serve a community and make the biggest impact, a nonprofit program manager also ensures that the organization’s activities taking place in the community are supporting that organization’s mission to their best extent.  At Federated Dorchester, for example, Phillips works to “provide necessary services in quantity and quality that make a difference” to the community his organization serves. 

Job Outlook

Leadership and strong management skills are continuously increasing in importance to nonprofits.  As more nonprofits embrace the importance of well-run and efficient organizations, the focus on promoting leadership and management—and compensating it accordingly—has increased in prevalence.  Especially for people with dedication to a certain mission and experience in the field of management, the program management position is a rewarding and readily available option. 

Typically, the program management position requires at least two years of work experience, and generally three to five years of experience is preferred in areas of management or nonprofit administration.  Phillips, for example, said his extensive experience with urban education and with youth prepared him for his position at Federated Dorchester.  “My experience really obligated me to use my skills and services to enhance the lives of those around me,” he said.

Program management offers the opportunity for advancement in the nonprofit world, giving individuals the chance to work closely with a mission they feel passionately about while interacting extensively within an organization and directly with the community they serve.  Self-starters with an enterprising mindset and a drive to make a difference while managing a diverse range of organization-specific tasks will excel in a nonprofit program management position. 


This article was written by Commongood Careers and is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

For more information about nonprofit and socially entrepreneurial careers, visit Commongood Careers at http://www.commongoodcareers.org