MBA at Work: MBAs for the Non-Profit Industry

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hands earthMBA students are not always motivated by money. A rising number of students seem to believe that if they aren't presently making boatloads of money they ought to be improving the world. While they "pay their dues" and gain work experience, they contribute to society. The non-profit sector is benefitting from their interest and valuing their contributions.

Interestingly, the trend does not seem to be limited to internships, although a large percentage of MBA students do internships in non-profits. Some B-school students genuinely want to make service their careers. So, let's look at what the world of non-profit is all about and at a few non-profit careers where MBAs are useful.

Non-Private, Non-Public, Non-Profit

The private sector is comprised of non-governmental businesses with a primary purpose of making a profit. Earnings come from revenues generated through buying and selling goods or services. Profits are money left over after all the bills and debts have been paid. That's the money stakeholders, partners, and investors get to take home or re-invest.

The public sector of the economy is government. Federal, state or local, its investors are taxpayers. Its "earnings" come from taxes. The most simplistic summation is that we all band together to pay for things that benefit the taxpayer "investors." As stated in the Preamble to the US Constitution, those benefits mean goods and services that "...establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty..." Thus it is lawmaking, healthy drinking water, enforcement, human rights, military, education and, often cultural enhancements.

The non-profit sector is made of organizations that provide goods and services to society without financial transactions. In the USA, non-profit is the collective name for institutions and organizations in our society that are neither government nor business. Other titles you may hear are third, independent, philanthropic, voluntary, or social sectors. Outside the USA, these not-for-profits are often called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or civil society organizations. This sector earns money through gifts of time, goods, services and finances. Its investors are donors. Call it what you will, non-profit doesn't mean not profitable. In fact, organizations in this category generally have missions to operate profitably. Otherwise, what donors will keep pouring money into an organization that can't support itself? All the "non" part really indicates is that investors don't get to take home any profits.

Why Non-profits Need MBA Specializations

For students getting MBAs with concentrations in Marketing, opportunities to get experience and change the world span the gamut of marketing roles. Putting the message out about an organization's efforts, public education, volunteer and donor development, devising programs that attract action, and marketing strategies in traditional and new media are all pursuits necessary to the growth of a non-profit. Marketing MBAs can find themselves doing research on corporations and organizations, their initiatives, innovations in programming or recruitment and relationship management techniques, or products and services that promote the non-profit's mission. Grantsmanship is critical and MBAs can do so much more than grant writing by putting their strategic view toward establishing grant funding or distribution mechanisms, setting up grants management processes and even streamlining grant management by implementing software and technologies.

MBAs with specializations in Administration, Human Resources and Organizational Development help non-profits with structural strategies. These MBAs have developed new models for organizations to be more entrepreneurial or participate actively with the larger, established economy. Some of their work includes fast-tracking environmental innovation, developing sustainability solutions, devising partnerships with universities, corporations, governments and other nonprofits. Administrative and operational MBAs are often found in organizations known for catapulting change both inside the organization and outside it. Many are employed in organizations that help communities promote or deliver quality education or health care, increase employability skills of the population, and improve their communities with arts, enrichment, and social programs across age groups.

Finance is a key area for non-profits. MBAs with a Finance Concentration are extremely valued and not just for their knowledge of efficient fiscal management or resource generation. Microfinance and entrepreneurial approaches to resolving issues of global poverty are hugely popular (and effective) philanthropic missions. Lest we forget, risk management and compliance are critical elements in the non-profit world too. Finance or accounting MBAs may evaluate lenders, borrowers and potential or existing loan portfolios and transactions. They make budgets, establish fiscal policies and procedures, or analyze how federal regulations affect the non-profit or its customers. Some MBAs have provided in-depth benchmarking for their organizations and/or their associates and competitors. They have interpreted financial ratios, researched investment policies, and established ways to increase transparency to donors.

For the MBA concentrating on Information Technology the non-profit sector has lots of room for technology innovations and efficiencies. Not only are non-profits internally in need of innovative Customer or Donor Relationship Management software and grant management solutions, but also technology innovations are important to increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of external communications and service delivery. Technology MBAs are collaborating with executives the fields of healthcare and social services where cost effective use of technology can be seen in tests for affordable mechanisms to increase employability of people with disabilities, improve transportation in remote areas, and improve access to energy resources, fresh food, and water.

But I Have To Earn A Living!

Most non-profit staff and executives do get paid. Pay may be high, moderate or low, but it comes with a bonus you often won't get in other sectors: Knowing you helped to make the world better.

Organizations that attract MBAs include those with missions to support green business and defending underprivileged or "at-risk" populations of society or the environment, microfinance, arts, community development, education, philanthropy, renewable resources, social enterprise, youth development, aging or end-of life issues and many others. Career roles span Chief Financial, Technology or Operating Officers, VPs of Marketing, Directors (Finance, Programs or Administration), Associate Directors, Financial Analysts, and Corporate Partnership Managers.

International locations and salaries ranging between $50-150K attract MBAs. In addition to executive careers, many MBA students enjoy internships and summer jobs for non-profits as they gain experience for their future goals.

How Do I Find Non-Profits Looking For MBAs?

To find non-profits in your area of expertise:

• Ask your Business School career advisor or advocate.

• Network with organizations where you currently volunteer or participate on a committee or Board.

• Use the search term MBA, when visiting the websites of charities of interest to you and businesses known for corporate social responsibility.

Although there are programs and websites for connecting MBAs with non-profit opportunities, most of them say that the actual jobs will be posted on the non-profit or B-school's job sites. Instead of looking for job postings on these sites, use the site for research and ideas, and to cull advice provided for applying to target non-profits.

It is far better to be gainfully employed at something you enjoy and find fulfilling than to be unemployed because your eyes were closed to unexpected opportunity. Never ignore an industry or organization because it has traditionally been downplayed as low paying. It may be exactly what ignites the "fire in your belly."

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