Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management vs. Master of Public Administration

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Many people find careers in the nonprofit sector rewarding in a way that for-profit work is not.

Many people find themselves drawn to careers in the nonprofit sector or in government. The work is often interesting and rewarding for them in a way that for-profit work is not. These workers are passionate about what they do, and personal growth opportunities abound. For the right candidate, these benefits and others can be the basis of a long and satisfying career.

The big question for many of them is not whether to pursue nonprofit or government work, it is which branch to target and how to best prepare for that particular direction. Choosing the right graduate degree is the first step on the path. Candidates must carefully evaluate the differences and similarities between degrees such as a Master of Arts (MA) in Nonprofit Management and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) to make sure they are setting themselves up for successful careers in public service.

After candidates have compared the MPA vs. MA and identified the best degree for their needs, they should choose an academic program with a proven track record of success. Programs such as Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration, which features a concentration in nonprofit management, can prepare graduates to apply for, secure and excel in the nonprofit or government position of their choice.

Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management

A Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management teaches students to oversee the employees or activities of a nonprofit organization. According to Investopedia, a nonprofit organization is a business that has been granted tax-exempt status because it furthers a social cause and provides a public benefit. Examples of nonprofits include hospitals, charities, universities, foundations and churches. As their name suggests, nonprofit organizations must turn any income they receive back into operating expenses or services; it cannot go to anyone’s personal profit.

A Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management is a post-secondary degree that typically takes two years to complete and most often appeals to professionals who already have experience in the field. The curriculum typically includes core business courses plus specialized coursework in nonprofit management.

Although the skills and knowledge gained in a nonprofit management program transfer easily to for-profit corporations, most students in such programs go on to work for nonprofit programs, at least initially. The website ThoughtCo lists some positions nonprofit MA graduates might expect to fill:

  • Donations are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization, and professional fundraisers are needed to keep the money flowing in. Fundraisers find and court donors through face-to-face meetings, by organizing fundraising campaigns, or through grant writing. Smaller nonprofits may provide on-the-job training for fundraisers, but larger organizations often want trained, graduate-level candidates to fill these positions.
  • Program Director. A program director oversees and manages a specific part of an organization, including its employees and activities. In smaller nonprofits, one program director may be in charge of the entire operation. New MA graduates can expect to lead a single aspect of a large organization. If they wish to be in charge, they should expect to get experience running a smaller organization before moving on to a more advanced role.
  • Community Outreach Coordinator. Community outreach coordinators manage a nonprofit’s marketing, event planning and outreach efforts. They are not usually in charge of direct fundraising, but they do plan fundraising events and coordinate volunteers. Besides a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management, degrees in marketing or public relations experience can be useful in this type of position.

Master of Public Administration

Like a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management, a Master of Public Administration is a post-secondary degree that takes about two years to complete. This option prepares professionals for a wide range of positions in both public and nonprofit organizations. It appeals to candidates who are driven to serve the public and equips them to do so in effective, efficient and imaginative ways. By obtaining the professional tools to do the best job possible, MPA students can prepare themselves to lead a career of consequence for their constituents.

Coursework in an MPA program focuses on public administration and usually includes an in-depth analysis of government organization, policies and programs. Sometimes it includes related topics such as government decision-making and the actions and behavior of past and present government officials.

Some programs also offer specialty concentrations to help students expand their knowledge and experience base beyond the government focus. Ohio University’s online MPA, for example, offers a concentration in nonprofit management with coursework focusing on nonprofit financial management and resource development; nonprofit leadership and governance; and strategic communication/outreach for nonprofit management. Courses such as these can equip students for success in any realm of the nonprofit world after graduation.

Many graduates of MPA programs seek careers in public service, although this field is not the only option available. Many choose to work in government at the local, state or federal level. Other career options exist with government agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration. Sometimes MPA grads also run for political office or become otherwise involved in politics through functions such as lobbying and campaign management.

The website ThoughtCo presents a sampling of jobs potentially available to MPA graduates. Some of these titles, such as budget analyst, usually require additional education or experience.

  • Budget analyst
  • City manager
  • County clerk
  • Legislative support
  • Lobbyist
  • Nonprofit manager
  • Policy analyst
  • Policy consultant
  • Political scientist
  • Program manager
  • Social services administrator
  • Social worker

The website Public Admin Careers highlights some additional high-level opportunities for MPA grads in the nonprofit world, including:

  • Project manager
  • Executive director
  • Fundraiser
  • Fundraising director

When deciding whether to pursue an MPA vs. an MA, applicants should consider which one best serves their needs and career goals. For students hoping to embark upon public service careers, the MPA offers all the benefits of an MA plus additional targeted training and education. Through MPA programs, candidates can ensure that they can tackle the challenges — and reap the rewards — of life in the public or nonprofit sectors.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online MPA program is dedicated to preparing professionals for a career in public administration. Through the university’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, students gain an overview of the scope of public administration and service while building skills in policy, finance, leadership, business, management and communications. The school occupies the No. 18 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2020 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

The program, which is 100% online, offers four concentrations: Public Leadership and Management, Nonprofit Management, State and Local Government Management, and Crisis and Emergency Management. Students can finish their degree programs in as few as two years. For more information, contact Ohio University now.


Recommended Reading:

Benefits of Earning an Online MPA Degree

3 Influential Government Careers for Civic-Minded Graduates

Master’s Degree in Public Administration as a Route to Becoming a CEO

Master of Public Administration vs. Master of Business Administration



Rewards of working in the nonprofit sector – The Case Foundation

Nonprofit definition – Investopedia

Master’s in nonprofit management coursework and example positions – ThoughtCo

Master’s in public administration coursework and example positions – ThoughtCo