Non-Profit Management Programs: MA vs MPA vs MBA

The non-profit sector includes charities, conservations groups, religious organizations, zoos, and more. Managing non-profit organizations is very different from managing a typical business, so there are specific graduate school programs available to those interested in working in leadership positions in this field. If you’re interested in a master’s degree in non-profit management, you have three main options: an MA, an MPA, or an MBA.

MA in Non-Profit Management Programs

Master of arts (MA) programs for non-profit management students are typically structured for people who are already in the workforce and want to go back to school to learn more about this field. Some students work in a non-profit already, but in a lower-level positions and want to move into a management position. Most students, however, work in management already, but for a typical business, rather than for a non-profit organization. Either way, MA programs are comprehensive and typically take one to three years to complete, depending on the college you attend and the whether you go to school full-time or part-time.

The main advantage to earning an MA in non-profit management rather than earning different type of non-profit management degree is you won’t repeat information that you already know from you experience working in the private sector. Many MA in non-profit management students already have a master’s degree in business or a related field and work experience, though this may or may not be required by your college. Because your education will be focused on learning about non-profits rather than learning about business itself, you’ll have freedom with this type of degree to specialize your education, taking elective classes in areas that interest you.

MPA in Non-Profit Management Programs

Master of public administration/affairs (MPA) in non-profit management programs are perfect to students who want to work in the public sector – mainly, government, education, or other types of public service departments. This differs from an MA in non-profit management in that the degree specifically prepares you to work in a specific types of non-profit, although there certainly is overlap with more general non-profit management programs. The level of specialization depends on the college you attend – some are very general while others have a heavy emphasis on government and public service. Essentially, this type of degree program will prepare you to work in any kind of non-profit, but you’ll be best prepared for work that involves policy-making.

Most MPA programs do not require you to have work experience, however, so you can also go into this type of degree program straight from your undergraduate degree program. MPA programs are also great for students who want to take a more theoretical approach to education and perhaps even go on further with their education to get a PhD.

MBA in Non-Profit Management Programs

Master of business administration (MBA) programs that offer a specialization in non-profit management are great for students who are already working in the non-profit sector, but who do not have management experience and want to learn more about business-related topics. MBA programs are typically more expensive than MA/MPA programs, but the advantage is that graduating with this type of degree really gives a huge boost to your resume. MBA programs are typically more demanding and have stricter requirements for students than MA/MPA programs, though it depends on the college you attend.

In an MBA in non-profit management program, your classes will prepare you to work in both the private and non-profit sectors, so after you graduate, you’ll have a number of job options. MBA programs are typically better for students who want to work in more of a traditional business environment, using skills such as marketing or human resources, but applying them in a non-profit setting. Additionally, MBA programs provide you with a large network, since B-schools typically have robust alumni programs, internship opportunities, and more.

Choosing a Program

So should you get an MA, MPA, or MBA? To summarize, here’s how to choose the right program for you.

  • MA: Great for students working in private sector management who want a lot of flexibility to specialize in a specific area of non-profit management
  • MPA: Great for students who want to work in a policy-making non-profit, like the government or an educational non-profit
  • MBA: Great for students who already work in non-profit, but have little management experience and want career flexibility for the future.

At the end of the day, how, there is a lot of overlap with these three types of programs. Research them all and ultimately choose the individual school that best fits your needs.

Top Online Master of Nonprofit Management Degrees

Managing a non-profit entity — whether it be a charitable organization, school, association, foundation, or endowment — will generally require at least a master's degree (MS, MBA, or MPA) in nonprofit management. The schools listed below all offer accredited online masters in nonprofit management degrees.

University of the Rockies

University of the Rockies offers a Master of Arts in Human Services with a Not-for-Profit Management specialization. This program equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary for managing a not-for-profit organization, including maintaining budgets, overseeing daily operations, and managing employees.

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New England College

Prepare for the competitive job market with an undergraduate degree from regionally accredited New England College. A private college rooted in a strong liberal arts foundation, NEC offers three undergraduate degrees 100% online.

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Marylhurst University

An MBA with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Marylhurst University helps you develop confidence in your business leadership skills and build a strong foundation you’ll need to succeed in your career.

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Find your Masters in Non-Profit Management degree program today...