Degree Options & Potential Careers
Experienced professionals with a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online can advance their careers in a variety of nonprofit, social services, and public administration fields. Nonprofit managers with doctoral degrees can apply their skills in business, fundraising, and public relations to top executive positions at global philanthropic organizations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an above-average job growth of 10% for public relations and fundraising managers from 2016 through 2026, especially as online fundraising becomes increasingly critical to nonprofit agencies.
Should I Earn an Online Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management?
Pursuing an online doctorate in nonprofit management requires a major commitment of time, effort, and financial means. Students considering a Ph.D. should choose a specialization aligned with their specific strengths. In this case, a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online would benefit friendly, open-minded, assertive professionals with excellent organizational and communication skills.
Nonprofit managers with a terminal degree in the field enjoy fulfilling, satisfying philanthropic work, plus generous earning potential. The BLS estimates that public relations and fundraising managers, including nonprofit managers, earn an annual average salary of over $118,000. The highest earners include professional services providers and managers of large organizations and agencies.
Nonprofit doctoral programs also offer broad potential for career advancement in multiple settings. Students can choose from a scholarly Ph.D. or business-oriented degree like a doctor of public administration (DPA) with a specialization in nonprofit management. The latter leads to advancement opportunities for educators, researchers, and top executives.
Doctorally educated nonprofit managers qualify to make a difference in the world. Some professionals aspire to top executive positions to achieve personal wealth and power, but nonprofit managers with advanced education and experience can guide their organizations toward holistic philanthropic success, potentially on a global stage. Ph.D. programs in the field heavily emphasize ethics coursework while incorporating leadership skills equivalent to those of corporate CEOs.
As with any degree, earning a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online offers maximum flexibility and convenience for full-time workers and families. For aspiring nonprofit managers in particular, developing acute online marketing and social media skills through a distance program can create more job opportunities and a higher earning potential. BLS projects that fundraising managers with advanced degrees and experience in online fundraising will experience the best career options from 2016 through 2026.
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What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Nonprofit Management?
Job prospects may seem limited to this specialty, but managers with experience in public relations, public service, and marketing can advance their careers with an online Ph.D. in nonprofit management. Doctoral nonprofit management programs prepare students for executive-level positions in academia and philanthropy in the public and private sectors.
The general public often underestimates the predominance of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. Many government-affiliated organizations and higher education institutions qualify as nonprofits, requiring leaders with unique skills for this sector of business.
Graduates of nonprofit management doctoral programs learn to apply core leadership concepts specific to non-corporate work environments, such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), or the Boys and Girls Club of America — all among Forbes' top nonprofits to work for in 2017.
Doctoral candidates in nonprofit management often pursue careers in closely related fields such as public relations or marketing, or they focus their skills in areas like fundraising and development. A wide variety of nonprofits including arts, health, and religious organizations require skilled, experienced managers to oversee fundraising events, promote the organization, and communicate with a board of directors and/or executive administration.
Students may choose a Ph.D. over a DPA if they are seeking positions in community research or higher education. Graduates who take more nuanced paths toward becoming research scientists, public policy advocates, or university professors may prefer the theoretical Ph.D. curriculum over that of the DPA or a non thesis degree in nonprofit management.
As is typical for most college-level educators, nonprofit management professors should hold a doctoral degree in their teaching subject or a related area of expertise. In some cases, community colleges and vocational schools may accept teaching candidates with only a master's degree if they also boast extensive experience. Those with a Ph.D. in nonprofit management can usually teach additional subjects, as well, including business, nonprofit leadership, and philanthropic leadership studies.
Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education
Graduates of doctoral programs in nonprofit management can pursue teaching occupations in higher education. Generally, professors should hold a terminal degree in the subject they expect to teach. Most universities require a doctorate in business or nonprofit management for this position, though some community colleges may accept a master's degree.
Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization
Executive directors oversee all aspects of a nonprofit organization, including development, human resources, and operations. Equivalent to the CEO of a corporation, these professionals typically work closely with members of the executive board of directors as their organizations' highest-ranking officials. Most executive directors need an advanced degree and up to 10 years of experience.
Program Director, Nonprofit Organization
Working directly under the executive director, program directors manage donations and gifts on behalf of their organization. They work alongside executive directors to communicate their organization's vision and philanthropic goals. Some positions require only a bachelor's degree, but high-profile, specialized nonprofits prefer program directors with advanced degrees and extensive experience in the field.
Management consultants help nonprofit executives and administrators manage resources more effectively. Most consultants work with multiple clients at a time and may keep a freelance or part-time schedule. Consultants for large and/or specialty clients should hold a terminal degree and field experience.
Chief Executive Officer, Nonprofit Organization
In some cases, executive directors perform the traditional CEO duties for nonprofit organizations. Others, however, require the oversight of this higher-ranking executive position. A nonprofit-specific CEO provides top-level management of finances, human resources, and volunteer activities. CEOs, especially for high-profile organizations, should hold terminal degrees and more than five years of experience in nonprofit management.
Nonprofit Management Ph.D. Program Overview
Prospective nonprofit management students can choose between Ph.D. and non-Ph.D. degree options. Depending on their career goals, they may choose a doctoral program rooted either in philosophy or in public administration, each offering a choice of full- or part-time coursework taken either on-campus or online. The sections below provide information on how to apply to these programs and the courses and career options students can expect from earning a doctorate in nonprofit management.
Types of Doctoral Degrees in Nonprofit Management
Common degree options for students at this level include a Ph.D. in nonprofit management, a DPA with a concentration in nonprofit management, or a doctor of business administration (DBA) with a concentration in nonprofit management. Students should consider the personal and professional implications of each degree before making their decision.
Generally, Ph.D.s, DPAs, and DBAs in this specialization share much of the same core curriculum. The programs diverge, however, in their concentration coursework and final requirements: Most Ph.D.s focus on theoretical research and concepts, concluding with a dissertation, while a DPAs and DBAs emphasize practical leadership skills for the workplace, culminating in a capstone project.
As with any college degree, completion times vary depending on whether a student enrolls full- or part-time and takes classes on-campus or online. Students can take four to eight years to complete a traditional Ph.D. program. DBAs and DPAs may take less time because they tend to prepare students for career advancement as quickly as possible. Some schools offer accelerated online doctoral programs that enable full-time students to graduate in three to five years.
Traditionally, aspiring college professors, researchers, and social scientists might pursue the more scholarly Ph.D. over a business-oriented DPA or DBA; however, the nonprofit management field encompasses lots of crossover. Experienced nonprofit managers looking to level up their careers to become executive directors, consultants, or CEOs could benefit from either a Ph.D. or a non-thesis doctoral degree.
Application Requirements and Admission Criteria
Requirements vary, but applicants for Ph.D. and non-Ph.D. degrees must meet many of the same criteria for general unconditional admission consideration. Most programs require applicants to hold a master's degree from an accredited institution. Ph.D. programs may require an existing major in nonprofit management, while DPAs and DBAs may accept prior degrees in closely related areas of study. Most doctoral degrees require applicants to hold a minimum GPA of between 3.0 and 3.5.
Admission requirements also vary based on applicants' work experience. Generally, admissions staff expect doctoral candidates to hold five to 10 years of experience; however, each program maintains its own specific entrance requirements. The nature of the experience also matters, as non-Ph.D. programs may accept applicants with more diverse work history, while a Ph.D. may require experience acutely aligned with applicants' career goals.
Content may vary between Ph.D.s and non-thesis programs, but curricula for nonprofit management doctorates often follow a similar format. Many programs divide coursework into categories such as core, specialization, and elective courses, culminating in either a dissertation or a capstone final experience. Some programs require an additional practicum or independent research project.
Schools typically require different numbers of credits to graduate from Ph.D. or non-Ph.D. doctoral programs. DBAs and DPAs usually comprise 100 credits, while Ph.D.s in nonprofit management might require between 48 and 60 credits to graduate. Some schools offer fully online and/or hybrid doctoral programs, featuring perks like accelerated completion times, locked tuition rates, and multiple start dates throughout the year.
Regardless of pursuing a Ph.D., DBA, or DPA, students should expect to complete a dissertation or capstone experience; however, some programs also require learners to complete a final exam to earn their degree.
The following represents a brief sampling of nonprofit management doctoral coursework.
In this course, students learn to apply financial strategies specific to nonprofit organization management. Topics include advanced grant writing, accounting, and ethics in financial management and business.
A critical element of nonprofit management, this course trains students to practice strategic fundraising at the executive level. Coursework explores planned and corporate giving, gift forecasting, and foundational grant-writing methods.
Volunteers play a key role in maintaining successful nonprofit organizations, as do the executives and administrators who oversee human resources. This course trains students to organize, engage, and develop the natural talents of nonprofit staff and volunteers.
Students in this course learn to practice social responsibility and professional ethics in nonprofit governance. Topics explore methods of engaging for-profit institutions in support of nonprofit causes and maintaining financial stability while adhering to long-term budgets.
Coursework in grants and contracts focuses on these aspects of nonprofit funding and spending. Topics explore grant proposals and writing, contract procurement, and nonprofit-specific negotiation tactics.
Along with grants and contracts, this course teaches students to develop their skills in a variety of fundraising methods, including through government agencies, private donors, and community fundraising initiatives.
A research-based course, this study explores the characteristics of successful leaders in both historical and contemporary contexts. Students use interactive media, classic literature, and current publications to compare ideas of effective leadership and organizational change.
This course emphasizes the importance of coordination, collaboration, and cooperation in the strategic management of nonprofit organizations. Students also explore the impact of globalization and consult case studies to develop a thorough understanding of strategic planning.
Earning a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online can qualify graduates for top executive positions. Students can pursue entry-level careers in the field with lower degrees; however, nonprofit agencies in sectors like healthcare, education, and the arts exclusively seek out terminal degree holders for advanced leadership roles.
Doctoral graduates in this field boast an edge over competitors in the workforce, with exceptional nonprofit management and soft skills in communication, research, and leadership. Students may choose to pursue concentrations in nonprofit management, such as accounting or public policy, to level up their careers to public official, government, or CEO positions.
With core skills focused on developing a thorough understanding of fundraising, ethics, and public policy, doctoral programs in nonprofit management also emphasize problem-solving, decision-making, and strategic planning skills. Graduates with a doctorate in nonprofit management online can pursue their choice of advanced careers in philanthropy, academia, and executive leadership.
Accreditation for Online Nonprofit Management Ph.D. Programs
As a general rule, schools must receive accreditation through regional or national agencies approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. In addition to institutional accreditation, some schools offer degrees with subject-specific programmatic accreditation. Programs may receive programmatic accreditation through the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council for degrees focused on public administration, public service, and nonprofit leadership.