Earning a Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management Online

Ideal for seasoned nonprofit and public sector professionals, this degree provides the leadership, business, financial, and research skills needed for top leadership positions in nonprofit organizations and public service agencies. Graduates often work as top executives, advisers, and senior leaders in nonprofits, foundations, educational institutions, and human service agencies.

Earning a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online can allow students to maintain employment, stay in their current location, and balance personal responsibilities while earning their degree. Organized, self-directed, dedicated students often succeed in online doctoral programs, saving time and money compared to on campus students.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management?

For those with a passion for service, online doctoral programs in nonprofit management can lead to career advancement and a variety of senior leadership positions. Graduates often work in nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, educational institutions, religious organizations, and charities. The table below details potential career paths for graduates of online doctoral programs in nonprofit management.

Potential Careers and Salaries

After earning a doctorate in nonprofit management, many graduates pursue leadership positions in nonprofit organizations. Doctorate holders may secure top positions such as executive director and CEO, along with senior positions such as program director and development director.

Other graduates apply their expertise to roles as advisers and consultants, helping nonprofits and other charitable organizations succeed. Ph.D. holders may also use their leadership skills in positions with foundations, international nongovernmental organizations, and government programs. A doctorate also qualifies professionals to teach at the college level and conduct research.

Nonprofit Chief Executive Officer

Annual Median Salary: $105,538

Nonprofit CEOs and executive directors oversee an organization's daily operations, supervise staff, raise money, and communicate with stakeholders and funders. They typically report to a board of directors. While this top leadership position requires only a bachelor's, many boards look for candidates with a graduate degree and relevant experience.

Nonprofit Director of Development

Annual Median Salary: $64,031

Effective fundraising is crucial to any nonprofit's success. Nonprofits typically prefer to employ a skilled director of development, fundraising, major gifts, or foundation relations. These professionals lead fundraising campaigns, supervise grant writing, and maintain relationships with donors. This position requires a bachelor's, but employers prefer candidates who hold a graduate degree.

Nonprofit Program Director

Annual Median Salary: $54,726

These leaders run nonprofit programs. Their responsibilities include managing budgets, publicity, and fundraising, along with supervising staff and volunteers. Effective and efficient program managers help their organization fulfill its mission. This position requires a bachelor's degree, but employers in certain fields and those that maintain large programs prefer to hire directors with a graduate degree.

Management Consultant

Annual Median Salary: $87,163

Some consultants specialize in areas such as helping nonprofits manage leadership transitions, develop effective publicity and fundraising campaigns, and adapt to change. A doctorate in nonprofit management can qualify graduates to assist nonprofit organizations with their specific challenges and goals.

Government Program Manager

Annual Median Salary: $90,556

Expertise in the nonprofit sector can apply to positions in the public sector. A doctorate in nonprofit management can qualify graduates to run government programs and projects. The responsibilities of these professionals include resource management and program evaluation. They also report on progress to other government officials and the public.

Source: PayScale

Traits of a Successful Nonprofit Manager

Successful nonprofit managers must demonstrate the ability to manage an organization's financial and human resources. These managers work to meet the needs of stakeholders and the individuals whom the organization serves. These tasks require strong interpersonal, communications, technology, leadership, and business skills.

Nonprofit leaders manage the day-to-day operations of programs, supervise staff and volunteers, and conduct fundraising efforts. Each day, these managers solve problems, prioritize organizational goals, and publicize their organization's mission and accomplishments. Since nonprofits often cannot afford to provide leaders with a great deal of administrative support, nonprofit managers must also use technology to perform administrative tasks. The skills below are critical for nonprofit managers.

Administration and Management
Nonprofit leaders must understand and apply management principles as they supervise staff, allocate resources, create strategic plans, and oversee the development and implementation of programs.
Problem-Solving
Nonprofit managers must identify problems, research solutions, review and evaluate possible options, and implement appropriate solutions. They must also evaluate programs and oversee necessary improvements.
Organizing and Prioritizing Work
Nonprofit managers create work plans that align organizational resources, including human resources, with organizational priorities. Successful nonprofits employ leaders and staff members who use their time wisely and efficiently to meet established goals.

Salary by Experience Level

Nonprofit managers can expect their salaries to increase as they gain experience. Nonprofits seek leaders with a proven track record of financial stewardship and managerial skills. An experienced nonprofit leader can steer an organization through a period of turbulence, rapid societal or policy changes, shrinking resources, or staff turnover. As they advance through their careers, nonprofit executives can see their salaries rise, as shown below.

Pay by Experience Level for Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization
Entry Level (0-12 Months) $51,000
Early Career (1-4 Years) $54,000
Midcareer (5-9 Years) $62,000
Experienced (10-19 Years) $71,000

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management Online

While each school and program sets specific requirements for doctoral students, most learners follow the steps below to earn their Ph.D. After finding and applying to the right program, students progress through coursework, take comprehensive exams, and complete a dissertation or other research project.

number one

Find the Right Program for You

Online programs can follow various formats. Some schools offer fully online programs, allowing students to complete all requirements remotely, including assignments and exams. Other programs include in-person components, such as on-campus residencies, proctored exams, and hybrid classes. Some programs employ a cohort format, while others allow learners to progress through the curriculum at their own pace. Schools also use different learning management systems. Students should research the requirements and structure of each prospective online program to ensure it meets their needs.

number two

Apply

Online doctoral programs typically require students to submit an online application that includes a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. Graduate students work with faculty advisers during their research, so learners should consider whether their research plans and career interests align with faculty members' specialization areas. In their application materials, students should clearly explain how the program can help them reach their goals.

number three

Coursework and Comprehensive Exams

Some doctoral programs require applicants to hold a master's degree, while others allow students to earn their master's during their first year or two of doctoral studies. Students must also complete core and concentration courses beyond the master's level, as well as research courses. After completing all coursework, doctoral students in nonprofit management typically take comprehensive exams before beginning their doctoral research.

number four

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Ph.D. programs in nonprofit management typically conclude with the completion and defense of a doctoral dissertation. This project requires students to create a detailed research proposal, conduct original research, analyze collected data, and write a dissertation. Completing a dissertation demonstrates mastery of advanced research methods and qualifies graduates to teach at the college level and become professional researchers. Some programs emphasize the application of research to a practical scenario and offer a capstone project as an alternative to a dissertation.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management

The emphases of online doctoral programs in nonprofit management vary by institution. Additionally, the school through which an institution offers the doctoral program varies; nonprofit management programs may be available through the school of education, human services, leadership, public policy, or business.

As a result, the specific courses available vary by program. Learners should select a program that includes coursework relevant to their career goals. All programs in the field prepare students for leadership positions in the nonprofit and public sectors and include courses in ethics, law and public policy, finances, leadership, and research methods. Ph.D. programs also require students to complete and defend a doctoral thesis. The sample courses below represent the types of classes nonprofit management Ph.D. students generally take.

  1. Strategic Planning: Nonprofit leaders must create strategic plans for organizations, in collaboration with staff, stakeholders, and board members. This course introduces learners to the strategic planning process and emphasizes the benefits and challenges of strategic planning for nonprofits. Students may examine case studies, and course requirements typically include the creation of a sample strategic plan.

  2. Finance and Budgeting: Nonprofit managers need financial skills to oversee budgets, create financial reports, and manage limited resources. Students in this course explore budgeting and auditing practices, tax systems, nonprofit financial management strategies, and the use of financial technology. Students examine sample budgets and reports and learn to create a budget.

  3. Nonprofit Governance: A nonprofit organization typically runs under the direction of a board of directors and may work in conjunction with government agencies, foundations, or other administrative bodies. Students examine how stakeholders and public policy can impact nonprofit administration. Learners may explore case studies and best practices related to board development.

  4. Change Management: Like all organizational leaders, nonprofit managers must navigate global, societal, and organizational change. This course explores theories, strategies, and case studies related to organizational change, leadership, and change management. Students examine methods to embrace change and help organizations contribute positively to cultural change.

  5. Research Methods: Doctoral candidates must take a series of research courses to prepare to complete their dissertation. Students learn advanced techniques for quantitative and qualitative analysis as they practice collecting, organizing, analyzing, and presenting data. Coursework covers research design, data collection strategies, data analysis tools, and statistical test selection.