How an MPA can help you start your own nonprofit

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Starting a nonprofit requires a solid background in management, leadership, research, and finance. Even seasoned business executives can learn a thing or two about the difference between running a for-profit company and a charitable institution. Not only must they known the particulars of effective fundraising – something unheard of in the traditional business sector – but they must also establish donor trust and navigate government regulation. This means nonprofit leaders must be experts in community outreach, marketing, law, finance, taxes, and public policy – at the bare minimum.

This is where an online Master of Public Administration degree can help you. An MPA gives you the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully launch your own nonprofit. At Rutgers-Newark, you’ll gain expertise in finances, management, ethics, budgeting, grant writing, and technology at a college ranked within the top 15 for public management and administration by U.S. News & World Report.

Earn your MPA completely online and you’ll learn the specifics of nonprofits in the following key areas:


The National Council of Nonprofits listed six questions to research before starting your own organization. First, you must answer whether there is a need for your nonprofit in the first place. This is a simple question of supply and demand: The “market” you enter must lack whatever services your nonprofit provides in order for your organization to be successful. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time attracting new donors. Second, you must ask whether you have a thorough financial plan to overcome initial costs. You’ll need this plan when filing for tax-exempt status.

Of course, part of your plan involves understanding the costs required to create a nonprofit in your state – the third question you must answer. These expenses include rent, supplies, licenses, permits, and fees associated with filing. Then, you must determine how to continue to maintain operating expenses after your organization gets off the ground.

Next, ask how your nonprofit plans to prove its impact. You’ll need a way to measure success – do you want to count individual cases or overall percentages? How will you present this information to board members, donors, and people in the area?

Finally, you must consider whether your nonprofit is even necessary or right for the community. This isn’t to say that any efforts to do good will be unwelcome, but there might already be institutions working toward the same goal. It could be better to join them than to spend valuable resources and energy developing your own group.

Answering all these questions requires research in some shape or form, whether that’s conducting market surveys, figuring out which forms you must file, or compiling data on local community needs. An MPA teaches you how to collect reliable research to guide your organization. You’ll also learn about ethics in research – how to create unbiased surveys, compensate respondents if necessary, and more.

A financial plan is essential for starting a nonprofit and filing for tax-exempt status.

Strategy and leadership

Effective nonprofit leaders are in high demand. According to The Concord Leadership Group, 77 percent of charities do not have a transition plan or training program despite the fact the majority of nonprofit leaders are approaching retirement. In addition, 49 percent of nonprofits operate without access to or knowledge of a strategic plan, while a quarter say their vision doesn’t effectively unify donors, staff, and board members.

An MPA will teach you the nonprofit-specific management skills necessary to start your own organization. You’ll learn how to communicate to your staff, board, and the community, delegate assignments, and navigate local and federal regulations.


Despite what seems like a shrinking pool of funding, the nonprofit sector is expanding. According to a report from Nonprofit HR, a human resources firm working in the nonprofit sector, 51 percent of nonprofits expected to increase the size of their staff at the end of 2015. Comparatively, only 36 percent of private businesses said the same. Another 34 percent of nonprofits said increasing staff size was a possibility, and 57 percent planned to create new positions altogether.

This news is great for people wanting to start their own nonprofits, but it doesn’t change the need for proper hiring practices. You’ll need a dedicated, hardworking team to get your new nonprofit off the ground. An MPA will teach you what skills are necessary for working in a nonprofit so you know what sort of background to look for in a candidate.

The majority of nonprofits expect to increase their staff.

Budgeting, fundraising, and finance

Budgeting, accounting, and raising money for a nonprofit is vastly different than doing the same for an enterprise or even a small business. Nonprofits rely on the generosity of the public rather than demand for particular goods or services. As such, it’s a lot harder to convince people to part with their money, which places extra importance on crafting a solid budget.

While obtaining your MPA, you’ll learn how to create a budget committee and timeline, how to estimate the resources and costs required to reach your goal, and the best way to fundraise. You’ll learn ways to calculate how much financing you can expect from donors, both individuals and the public at large, and what you’ll need to obtain from grants and other means.

In addition, an MPA will teach you how to apply for and maintain tax-exempt status. There are strict guidelines to being tax-exempt. If, for example, you want your organization to influence legislation, you cannot be exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As with any subject, tax law in regard to nonprofits is complicated, but an MPA will give you the tools to make sense of it.


In a conversation with Nonprofit Hub, Nathalie Laidler-Kylander and Julia Shepard Stenzel, authors of “The Brand IDEA,” explained a lack of insight into brand management is one factor that causes many burgeoning nonprofits to fail. An organization has a brand from the moment it is conceived, yet many people new to nonprofit work assume branding and marketing are antithetical to their field. In actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Branding is an important part of the way nonprofits relate to the public and attract new donors. Throughout your MPA coursework, you’ll learn how your interactions with the public and what you report influences your brand.

This is just a quick summary of all the ways an MPA helps you start a nonprofit. No doubt you’ve already got the foundation – you’ve probably expressed an interest in nonprofit work before, or you at least have the drive to change your community. However, you can’t succeed on passion alone. An online MPA gives you the background necessary to bring your nonprofit to its full potential.

Learn More

The online Master of Public Administration from Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) gives students a broad understanding of the field and can prepare you to start your own nonprofit!


Our Research

The Challenges of New Nonprofits