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In-Demand Nonprofit Skillset: MBAs

What place does a Master of Business Administration have in the nonprofit sector?  You may be surprised to know that the skills you learn when pursuing your MBA can be important in many nonprofit jobs.  What’s more, an increasing number of nonprofits are recognizing the valuable skills and competencies that MBAs bring to an organization.  In the following article, we will profile two organizations who leverage MBA grads and then conclude with some advice about how to make the connection work.

Profile #1: Nonprofit Finance Fund
MBAs Positively Impact Programs and Culture

Catherine Gill, the Director of Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) in New England, believes that hiring MBAs into nonprofits creates a valuable win-win scenario. NFF, one of the largest Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI’s) in the country, delivers financial and advisory services to community-based nonprofits of all kinds.

An MBA herself, Gill believes that, “MBAs bring hard skills like financial know-how to NFF, but that’s not all.  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.”

In addition to offering business savvy, MBAs can impact an organization’s culture in positive ways. “As a result of having MBAs on staff, our culture is more operational and streamlined. There’s an organization-wide emphasis on efficiency. Our culture values processes and understands how they can help us more efficiently fulfill our social mission.”

Gill describes that one of the biggest draws for MBAs at NFF is the intellectual stimulation of the work. The advisors and analysts at NFF deal with complex business problems on a daily basis, ranging from working with organizations to secure funding for large-scale capital projects to helping nonprofits understand the impact of their finances on program outcomes. According to Gill, the sophisticated nature of this work requires “people with good degrees and strong educational backgrounds who understand the value of the work we do.”

Profile #2: Center for Effective Philanthropy
MBAs Bring Outstanding Analytical Skills

Kevin Bolduc is Vice President of Assessment Tools at Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a nonprofit that provides management and governance tools to define, assess, and improve foundation performance. Overseeing the design of new tools and the refinement of CEP’s suite of current assessment offerings, he depends on the analytical expertise of the MBAs on his team.

“The MBAs on our staff help round out our core competencies. Some staff bring a deep understanding of philanthropy to our work, while others possess research design expertise. The MBAs on staff complient that institutional knowledge with razor sharp quantitative and analytical skills, as well as performance assessment experience,” says Bolduc.

Bringing a sophisticated appreciation of analysis to understanding foundation performance is just one asset of having MBAs on staff. Kevin also explained that being able to quickly understand their clients is a critical piece of their work, which he finds MBAs are prepared to do. “We focus on the largest philanthropic funders… sophisticated and complex organizations that face unique challenges. MBAs possess the ability to develop strong relationships and communicate with these organizations more effectively about their program performance.”

Additionally, MBAs are prepared for internal organizational change and growth. Bolduc says that “the MBAs on staff help us maintain and develop processes and structures that allow us to grow quickly. They understand that a nonprofit is more than just running programs; it’s also about management, leadership, and scalability.”

Bolduc believes that more and more nonprofit opportunities are opening up to MBAs, largely because of the growth of the field of social entrepreneurship. “MBA skill-sets are more relevant than ever. Looking at social problems through an analytical lens is becoming the norm for nonprofits, particularly as foundations and nonprofits hold themselves more accountable for producing quantifiable results. MBAs bring a complientary skill-set to those taking more traditional paths into the sector, and together these skills build a stronger and more accountable social sector.”

Getting There: How to Connect with Nonprofits

Despite the fact that MBAs are more and more desired in the nonprofit field, it can be hard to make a connection with the right organization.  Nonprofit career fairs, sometimes organized by student social enterprise clubs, can be a great place to start looking.  However, because most nonprofits cannot afford to participate in on-campus recruiting programs, many MBAs need to actively pursue nonprofit opportunities themselves.

Organizations such as Net Impact, Idealist, Craigslist and StartingBloc are strong places to look for opportunities as they provide a broad range of entry points to the nonprofit sector and promote a wide scope of organizations.

Another place to think about getting experience and connections is through an internship or similar program.  While there are fewer formalized programs that offer nonprofit internships as compared with their for-profit counterparts, there are some opportunities, such as those through New Sector Alliance, Education Pioneers, and REDF’s Farber Internships.  If finding a formal internship is not an option, nonprofits also engage MBA students early through programs like Wharton’s Nonprofit Board Leadership Program, which places MBA students on local nonprofit boards.

Looking for More?

There are many helpful resources when you are considering getting an MBA and what to do with an MBA in the nonprofit sector once you have one.  Here are a few useful links to send you on your way to a career with an MBA that makes a difference:

  • Idealist Graduate School Fairs: A multi-city, annual, free event created to help people considering graduate education as a way to improve their skills and advance their nonprofit careers.
  • Harvard Business School Guide to Careers in the Nonprofit Sector: A print resource MBAs interested in entering the nonprofit sector as full-time managers, board members, or volunteers.
  • MBA-Nonprofit Connection: A wealth of information and services with the goal bringing MBA skills and energy to the nonprofit sector while bringing new job opportunities to the business school community.
  • Net Impact’s Career Center: A site that gives you the opportunity to read about other people who have gotten socially responsible jobs in business; or you can become a member search through job and internship listings yourself.



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

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