How to have a Successful MBA career in nonprofit

You must be a multitasker because of stretched resources. If you get your satisfaction out of non-material things, this is a great MBA career track.

You must learn how to motivate volunteers and staff who are there for idealistic rather than monetary reasons. I tend to motivate them around an issue or an injustice rather than a product; the power in that is strong (for the right people).

I find I am able to build strong credibility when I can speak from personal experience and bear witness to the appalling situation that most of our planet’s population is forced to live in.

More and more business schools are offering MBA online programs with a nonprofit management focus or stream, here is a good list of these programs.  For those certain that this is the direction they want to take, this is a good option.  But a “regular” MBA is also of great value to work in this field.

Nonetheless, dealing with burnout is hard. Not only are resources very limited, which means a person works harder or does more than one person might be tasked with in a profit-making organization, but at the same time, that person isn’t getting paid for what they do. Add to this that more and more of the responsibility of guarding society’s well-being is being shifted from governments to the nonprofit sector creating intense competition for the scarce financial and human resources.

Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

More and more nonprofits are trying to be run like private sector businesses, and we’re seeing nonprofits more in the MBA curriculum too—in courses and in cases within courses.  Look for evidence that these issues are part of the discussion throughout the curriculum and not just one course, as though nonprofit issues are distinct entities 100% of the time. They have the same business problems other organizations have, perhaps more amplified.

I’ve come to realize that there’s not one bottom line; there are many bottom lines.  A nonprofit manager needs not only to raise and manage funds but must also try to gauge how best to address complex societal problems through programming and advocacy aimed at multiple audiences.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

I had 10 years in nonprofit management before returning to school for the MBA.

To start, after two years of university study in Nova Scotia, I did a youth exchange with Canada World Youth which led me to work on a dairy farm for three and a half months in Quebec with half Canadian and half Africans, followed by three and a half months in West Africa with the same group. This experience led me to transfer universities and follow a co-op program in international development studies. On the co-op placement I worked in Botswana for one year, developing small-scale income generation projects for several San (Bushman) communities in the Kalahari.

I had been at Doctors Without Borders since 1999 before attending business school. I helped establish the Canadian office for them, and it had grown from just me as the first Canadian staff member, supporting a team of volunteer doctors and lawyers and accountants from across  Canada, to a team of 30 paid staff sending hundreds of medical and non-medical volunteers overseas, raising millions of dollars, and keeping humanitarian concerns front and center in the Canadian consciousness. I was the office manager until 2003 then added recruitment through 2004.

I was transferred over to Holland to run recruitment for specific projects and I had a position in the Ivory Coast for one year, supporting medical and nutritional projects in Liberia, and I was able to bring the whole family; I had about 30 staff there.

In Copenhagen, I ran a small branch office with four staff for three years. There I also did a small project in Uganda, and I started getting into marketing and fund-raising, working with government funding. Then I managed a team of seven in Sri Lanka while I applied to MBA programs.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

For nonprofit management, choose a strong generalist MBA or an MBA with a nonprofit track. I definitely enjoyed the case method and found it a superior way to learn as an older student. It is also important to choose a program that requires considerable prior work experience of its students, because this enriches your learning enormously.

Now after going to Ivey, I am able to think in more strategic terms and am more comfortable with numbers.  Fund-raising is marketing, and increasingly there is a focus on corporate fund-raising, so a solid understanding of what makes the private sector tick will be invaluable for your success.

Diversity of faculty and students in terms of nationality and work experience is the best way to prepare yourself for today’s global realities, especially if you plan to work across borders in a role like mine.

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