Nonprofit executives reverse-engineer the path to leadership. Instead of vying for the reins of any corporate entity, they are committed to the cause first, and to their position second. And while the work and ensuing results vary between businesses and nonprofits, the process of management is fundamentally the same. As nonprofit entities become more sophisticated in fundraising, public relations, and operations, there is an increasing call for MBAs and their skills to sit at their helm.
While taking a leadership position with a nonprofit can be a noble and rewarding pursuit, many MBAs shy away from these roles as they stare at their monthly student loan statement, or the shiny signing bonuses and salaries of their consulting and finance-bound classmates. But if you’re passionate about the greater good and social enterprise, here are some things to consider before and during your MBA.
While we always encourage you to research each school you apply to to ensure a great fit, this becomes more important if you’d like to focus on nonprofit or social enterprise. Some schools have this coded into their DNA, such as University of California - Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Yale School of Management, while other schools’ strengths lie elsewhere. Business schools show their commitment to the nonprofit sector in multiple ways, including offering loan forgiveness programs to graduates who opt for public service, nonprofit work, and even those who join certified B Corps.
Other ways b-schools support their graduates opting into nonprofit work post MBA include fellowships or internships on charity board of directors, social enterprise accelerators, and having a specialized track for nonprofit leadership. You don’t have to specialize in nonprofit management, your MBA skills are transferable across many industries, but having elective classes that focus on the challenges specific to nonprofit enterprise can give you additional preparation and perspective.
Will you have opportunities for summer internships with nonprofits? Does the school offer incubators or support for these endeavors? Look for schools that may offer summer stipends for your work with a charity or social enterprise. Will you have experiential learning opportunities? University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has the Nonprofit Boards Fellows Program, placing second-year MBAs on boards of local nonprofit organizations, where they serve as “Visiting Board Members”, gaining valuable board experience and supporting the mission of the partner organization. Not only will these valuable experiences allow you to show your commitment to a cause when it’s recruitment time, it will also confirm your desire to pursue nonprofit work post graduation. You’ll want to also check out job fairs that serve like-minded candidates, such as Idealist fairs.
Charities and nonprofits vary widely in size and scope, but many function as any other large corporation. The American Cancer Society manages revenues of almost $900 million, and charity : water raised more than $40 million last year. These entities can employ hundreds or thousands of people, and carry the same, if not bigger responsibilities: instead of shareholders, you’re beholden to those who rely on your services. Nonprofits stand to benefit greatly from an MBA who can apply rigor to the checks and balances that finance their activities. You’ll want to show recruiters that your heart and analysis chops are both in the right place.
It’s right there in the name: nonprofit. MBAs who opt for public service or social enterprise are unlikely to earn as much as those who choose the consulting or energy sectors and that’s ok, but you need to be ready. Do the math carefully on your tuition costs, in-state vs. out-of-state costs, opportunity cost (i.e. the cost of not working, or working fewer hours while in school), realistic living expenses while studying, and your anticipated post-MBA salary.
Don’t discount schools with a pricey tuition or assume that prestigious schools only want to funnel their graduates to Wall Street. Harvard Business School, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and Yale School of Management all offer very generous loan forgiveness programs for alumni that enter the public and nonprofit sectors. The eligibility will vary slightly from school to school, as will the amount of support available, so dig deeper into your eligibility.
Are you planning on a career with a nonprofit or in the public sector and considering an MBA? Tell us how an MBA will help you achieve your goals in the comments below.