MBAs Aren't Only for CFOs


The nonprofit sector is probably the only one with people who hope to no longer be needed someday. If we can eliminate hunger, end domestic violence and prevent diseases that kill millions of people each year, then many of us will be without a job. Since these big and important issues continue to impact millions of people around the world, we should be focused on having the most effective and sustainable organizations as possible.

No matter what sector you are in, well-run organizations are effective from top to bottom. Leaders in nonprofits need a diverse set of skills to successfully manage people, finances, and projects just like in the for-profit sector. We also are expected to be content experts in the areas and topics of our organizations and always stay true to the mission. Getting an MBA isn’t going to make you an expert in global hunger or post-conflict mental health needs, but it will go a long way in helping you effectively manage the projects or organizations that are tackling these problems. And that can turn into better service and a larger impact for those you serve.

Many current and future leaders of nonprofit organizations already have graduate degrees related to their specific content area. In the past, that was generally enough, and there are certainly organizations with great leaders who do not have a formalized business education. Today is a different story. More and more funders are expecting to see quantifiable and greater results, which mean there is a huge opportunity for business-minded individuals to have a large impact on nonprofit and government organizations.

The majority of nonprofit organizations in the US are small with few staff. The American Red Cross, the Museum of Modern Art and the United Way may have COOs or CFOs keeping track of financial sustainability, but most nonprofits don’t have the luxury of having a single person dedicated to a single function. This becomes clear as you write your grant applications and quickly realize that you are the one who will be implementing most of this work without others who specialize in the business side of things. Having a much better understanding of financial accounting, strategic planning and entrepreneurship would result in a significantly better application and ultimately a better project. I can remember writing my first grant to the Institution of Museums and Library Services when I was just starting my career. My lack of strategic planning or understanding of operational management makes me feel sorry for the person who had to suffer through reading the application before they denied the funding.

At Booth we emphasize developing analytical tools and using a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Not only will your Booth MBA give you the skills to manage your organization’s operations, but it will also help you think more critically about the how to tackle the many complex social issues we face today and will face in the future.

Those working in the nonprofit sector generally are here because their primary goal is to serve others. Adding a Booth MBA to your deep subject knowledge will significantly elevate your ability to have a great impact on the world.