Should a CEO sit on the board of his/her own directors' companies?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Back to School

Q: I would like to do a masters degree in nonprofit management online. I have over ten years of experience volunteering and working in this sector and have a great passion for it. But, I can’t seem to find any information on such a program and would appreciate any ideas you can provide.

A: A couple times a year I get a question about schools of nonprofit management. While a relatively new course of study – such programs have only been around approximately 20 years, which is a drop in the bucket compared to something like philosophy, which dates back to the time of ancient Greece – a wide variety of options are available. The best source is the list maintained on the Seton Hall University website, based on research originally done a number of years ago by Roseanne Mirabella and Naomi Wish and kept up to date. There are currently close to 300 schools listed that are searchable by level (non-degree, undergraduate, masters or doctoral), state, region or whether the program is available online (47 are!). To access the list go to

But finding a school requires more than going down a list. You will obviously have to do some due diligence to determine the one that will best meet your needs.

One of the first questions you should ask is whether the program is a standalone, where your degree would be in nonprofit management, or a concentration in a larger school. That will impact the number and content of the courses you take in nonprofit management specifically. If it is a concentration, you should check out what department the program is being offered through. Typically nonprofit management programs will be located in business, public administration or social work, but I taught in one program that was located in the education department. Each discipline has its own focus, advantages, disadvantages and politics. The Seton Hall website can walk you through some of these, but again you need to know what you are going back to school to learn.

Check out the core courses you will be required to take and the availability, type and variety of elective courses. You’ve been working in the field. Are there enough courses in your particular area of interest? Will those courses give you the range of knowledge you are looking for? What about when they are offered? Just because they are online doesn’t mean that you can necessarily take them on your schedule.

Look at the faculty. Review their curriculum vitae. Have they worked in nonprofits or sat on boards? Do they publish? Present at conferences? Does that matter to you?

If you are doing an online program, will you have to spend some time in residency? If so, how long and how often will you be expected to attend? Can you get the time off from your job? Can you afford to travel to the school to meet this requirement?

Will you have to do a thesis? Would you rather have an extra class or two instead? Can you do a thesis even if it’s not required if you feel that will give you critical experience?

What is the cost? Is there any financial aid available if you require it? Will you be required to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or an equivalent?

This is not a decision to be taken lightly. I commend you for wanting to go back and get an advanced degree. Just be sure that the choice you make is the best one possible because you will be making a big investment in both time and money.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to add to Terrie's response to this question with my thoughts.

    If you have a choice, I would highly recommend attending a brick and mortar institution as opposed to taking online courses when seeking a degree in nonprofit management, or if needed a combination of the two. I have had wonderful experiences in both the virtual and physical classrooms, therefore this is not a blanket statement against online coursework. On the contrary online programs are now a very important and integral part of the education experience in our society, especially for those who are working full-time while raising a family and trying to advance their education, and for military personnel based outside the country, just to name a few. However, one of the most valuable tools obtained by attending a traditional setting in a nonprofit management program is manifested through the contacts made with professors and fellow students.

    Most students in this type of program currently work in the nonprofit field and most professors have extensive experience with nonprofit organizations. While the same is likely true with online programs, the people you meet in the actual classroom predominately will live locally and will bring to class an extensive network of contacts, ideas and suggestions, and many times collaboration and assistance. Although I have lived in the same community for 20 years, my network grew exponentially while in the program. Now, when I need advice on fund development, social media, program development, special events, grants writing, etc., or simply need an introduction to a potential donor, vendor, or events coordinator, for example, I know just the right people to call to fulfill my organization's needs.

    Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.