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How Is Nonprofit Management Different?

While some overall management principles are the same among nonprofit, for-profit and government organizations, several aspects of management are unique to nonprofit firms. A careful study of the nuances of managing in a nonprofit scenario can lead nonprofit professionals to find more success and fulfillment in their careers. An online MPA program with a concentration in nonprofit management gives professionals a valuable head start toward a thriving career as a nonprofit manager.

The Organization’s Mission

The success of a nonprofit manager begins with the organization’s mission statement. Nonprofits are unique in that their goal for every facet of operations is to further a cause, not to profit. Nonprofit management should focus on casting vision in every project and every scenario in the workplace, and it should always point the team back to the overarching cause with a sense of urgency, rather than trying to reach specific financial or sales goals.

Legal Concerns

Nonprofits face a different set of legal requirements than do for-profit businesses or government agencies. Nonprofit managers need to be well-versed in the various legal requirements their organization must meet in order to maintain tax exempt status. Enrolling in an online MPA program in nonprofit management gives aspiring nonprofit managers a foundation in tax laws as they apply to nonprofits; after graduation, managers must stay abreast of any changes or updates to tax laws that may affect their organization.

Funding and Budgeting

The overall principles of budgeting in a nonprofit organization are similar to how it works in for-profit businesses and government agencies, although the source of funding and allocation of money does vary. Nonprofits cannot keep any profits earned by their organization or accumulate any wealth; they must spend any earnings on operations for their organization. Nonprofit management also involves the process of researching, writing and applying for grants to provide crucial funding for the organization’s operations.

Contracting With the Government

In certain fields of service, nonprofit management can involve contracting with government agencies to provide human resources, facilities or other materials to a program. Managers must know the ins and outs of contract negotiation, as well as what it takes to fulfill every aspect of the contract.

Personal Connection

For-profit businesses have a tendency to focus on the bottom line. Nonprofits, however, must maintain a focus on the personal connections they have with the people involved in their organizations’ causes. Nonprofit managers need a people-centered approach to management, rather than a money- or project-centered approach. In order for the mission of the nonprofit to stay front and center, managers must prioritize relationships with employees, volunteers and the people their organizations serve.

Difficulty Measuring Results

Nonprofits often have difficulty measuring the results of their work, compared to for-profit businesses that can look at their sales and profits to quantify success. A nonprofit can sometimes measure success by the amount of money it raises at a fundraiser, by the number of volunteers that engage its cause, or by the number of people it serves. Sometimes, however, the work of a nonprofit is not about serving a greater quantity of people but providing a greater quality of service to a relatively small number of people. One life changed is worth all the work of the entire organization.

The unique challenges of nonprofit management provide an exciting opportunity for mission-minded individuals to grow as managers in the nonprofit world. Managers in nonprofit will need many of the same skill sets as they would in the corporate or government sectors, but they will also need to adapt their management skills to fit nonprofit scenarios and be flexible for the differences they will encounter. The coursework and internship of an online MPA program give graduate students an idea of the different types of management tasks they will face in the nonprofit world.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Non-Profit Management track.


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