Nonprofit work for MPA students

How an MPA helps you tackle the biggest needs of nonprofits

The nonprofit sector contributes a great deal of good to this country and has done so for decades, with the efforts of these organizations standing out as examples of the human spirit at its best. While the field is going through some changes in terms of how many of these organizations are structured, this is not a problem. In fact, it may well be an excellent opportunity. According to a March 31 piece in Nonprofit Quarterly, many workers in the sector are questioning if conventional, individual leadership is necessary or if a shared, group-responsibility model could be even better for organizations’ staff as well as the people they serve. Some have begun attempting to put this method into practice.

If this becomes the norm of how nonprofits are overseen, it naturally follows that they will need intelligent, highly driven workers to fill their ranks – to create leadership coalitions that can do so much good for so many people. The skills you can learn by entering the Master of Public Administration program at Rutgers University – Newark will be highly beneficial to this field, and it’s well worth your time to consider the nonprofit sector as the career endgame of earning your MPA.

Necessary skills for nonprofit work

While it’s not the only grad-school path that can lead you to a productive career in the nonprofit sector, making a reasonable case for the MPA program being most ideal for prospective nonprofit workers is not very hard. The skills emphasized and tested in the core MPA curriculum are a major reason why.

As explained by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, by whom the Rutgers Newark MPA program is accredited, the core courses this degree focuses on include the details of legal and political processes, ethics, financial management and budgeting, managerial economics and quantitative methods. Additionally, you’ll take other classes that specifically pertain to your concentration: Nonprofit management is an obvious choice for your focus, but the other possibilities – health care management, urban affairs, international development, financial management, and human resource management – will be best if you have a specific field in mind.

The ultimate objective of this educational direction is to learn the skills necessary to successfully occupy leadership roles in nonprofits. While you have to know both the specifics of your field – be that legal aid for immigrants or public health education and resources for low-income Americans – and the general skills required to see the big picture of a given issue, you will not be delving into the minutiae of statistical analysis, data collection, economic theory, or intricate policy craftsmanship. That is addressed in the similar Master of Public Policy curriculum, which truly gets down to the nitty-gritty. It would be somewhat reductive but effective as an analogy to say that the MPP is the brain to the MPA’s brawn – or heart, if you prefer.

If you want to help manage and eventually take full rein of a nonprofit, it will be most important for you to know how the policies and initiatives devised by staffers can best be implemented – rather than to possess ironclad, comprehensive knowledge of the policy itself. There is a symbiotic and productive relationship between theory and successful execution in nonprofit organizations, just like in any government agency, but MPA graduates who find gainful employment will be working on the execution, not the theory. Given the issues noted above with the sector’s leadership void and the idea of a more democratic approach to how decisions are made, it’s clear that MPA grads who know how to get things done will be in high demand.

Nonprofits provide MPA graduates the most careers

In 2015, the NASPAA surveyed the alumni of various degree programs from its base of accredited schools. Most of those who responded had earned MPAs – 364 of the 551 respondents, in fact. The results confirmed that the domestic nonprofit sector provides public administration and policy graduates with more jobs than any other field. Notable findings included the following:

  • Domestic nonprofit workers constituted 19 percent of the surveyed alumni, narrowly surpassing city, country or local government positions at 17 percent. State or municipal government employees made up another 17 percent, with 11 percent working in both the federal government and private sectors.
  • Employment overall was steady for MPA and public policy program graduates, with 80 percent employed full time and happy in their work and another 11 percent gainfully employed but looking for a new job.
  • Salaries – a major concern of some nonprofit professionals, per the NPQ piece and survey discussed above – for those surveyed were never massive, but certainly respectable, with most – 139 respondents – reporting current annual salaries ranging between $65,000 and $85,000.

Support from sector organizations

MPA program graduates who want to work in the nonprofit field can benefit from the resources provided by various organizations that focus on connecting and assisting professionals in the sector. Some of the best-known of these include:

  • American Society for Public Administration: The ASPA encourages those working in public service – which, of course, includes nonprofit professionals – to form or join chapters of its organization. While one of its 30 sections, which comprise chapters focused on specific fields, is dedicated to Nonprofit Policy, Practice and Partnerships, nonprofit workers in specialized disciplines may be better served by joining the sections pertaining to them. Members of this organization are entitled to subscriptions to its scholarly journals, attend its annual conference, join free development webinars that can offer nonprofit workers tips on bettering their organizations, and more.
  • Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: Formed in the wake of a Sloan Foundation conference on the particulars of public policy and management instruction, the APPAM has supported the efforts of public administration and policy professionals for decades. While it arguably focuses more on government organizations than non-governmental nonprofits, memberships (which are available for full-time MPA students as well as professionals) ensure networking possibilities for nonprofit workers through conferences and a member directory.
  • National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration: Students of NASPAA-accredited MPA programs – such as Rutgers Newark – should take advantage of the organization’s resources. Together with the ASPA and APPAM, the NASPAA sponsors, considered one of the best job-listings sites for finding nonprofit and government roles. MPA students can also join the NASPAA honor society, Pi Alpha Alpha, which is based in 162 schools accredited by the organization, and potentially bolster their career prospects by making connections and experiencing a diverse range of perspectives on the spectrum of public service.

Learn More

The School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark, provider of the online Master of Public Administration, is accredited by the NASPAA. Before a program becomes eligible for accreditation by the NASPAA, its parent school must be recognized by a regional, national or international agency. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is a member of the Association of American Universities.


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