I’m a Non-Profit Professional. So Why Am I Getting an MBA?

Lauren Hines
Lauren Hines

Lauren Juanita Hines has more than fifteen years of experience in the nonprofit sector and currently maintains a private consulting practice in the DC metro area, guiding fundraising and management for a variety of nonprofit clients. She has served as development director for several legal and justice organizations, including the DC Bar, and worked in the management of performing arts companies, including Washington National Opera, Columbus Dance Theatre, and Opera Columbus. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Lauren began her career as a stage manager for theatre and opera. At the age of sixteen, she co-founded the Cincinnati nonprofit Hub Central and co-produced an Emmy Award-winning television show, Real Exchange. Lauren received her undergraduate degree from Kenyon College, where she was awarded a fellowship for her statistical research in psychology. Lauren is currently studying at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and will receive her Executive MBA in May 2016.

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An MBA isn’t the first graduate degree that you think of when you think of the nonprofit sector. There are plenty of other areas of study, from public policy to social work, that are directly related to public service.

In fact, some traditional business classes seem totally unrelated to the nonprofit sector. Investments, capital markets, and derivatives? Maybe not. Those are the classes you take in your MBA because you’re a Wall Street hotshot chasing alpha, right?

Of the 26 courses in my curriculum at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, I think that derivatives might be the only one that fails to connect with my work in the nonprofit sector. Every single other course has direct impact on my ability to lead mission-driven companies to success. Yes, even international finance: my opera companies are engaging in international co-productions more frequently, and my immigrant services nonprofits must have an awareness of the economic conditions in our clients’ home countries.

Good business is good business no matter your industry. And this is true even for the nonprofit sector.

“But wait,” you say. “Non. Profit. No profit! No money! Isn’t that the opposite of business school?”

Nonprofit does not mean no money. If you’re passionate about your nonprofit mission, you must be passionate about making money for your nonprofit company.

I’ve spent the last six years of my career exclusively in fundraising. That means I “raise” “funds;” It’s my job to make money. I love this work and I take it very seriously. It would be the ultimate disservice to our mission and to our clients if a company fails to keep our business viable.

Need more evidence that nonprofits are “real” companies? The latest financial reports show that the USA’s nonprofit industry produced $1.3 trillion in 2013 revenues, with an additional $3 trillion held in endowment assets. Trillions with a “T”! That was 5.3% of our GDP in 2014. In 2010, nonprofits represented 9.2% of all wages paid in the USA. The nonprofit sector is an important generator of revenues and provider of jobs. (All sources: Urban Institute)

But there’s a moral tension between the private sector and the nonprofit sector. And any nonprofit professional will have to come to terms with it as they carve their career path, whether seeking an MBA or other degrees. This tension is built on the incorrect assumption that corporations are evil and nonprofits are benevolent. I’ve partnered with corporations that build social impact into every aspect of their work. And I’ve worked at nonprofits where staff embezzled funds. In fact, sometimes greedy and dishonest people seek out nonprofit companies to victimize because these companies tend to have less sophisticated financial controls and a board that is more concerned with programs than with financial reports. That’s why the nonprofit sector needs smart leaders to protect and advance our important work.

Passion for the mission is essential, but it’s not enough. To take on the very challenging role of a nonprofit executive, you must have sufficient training to ensure that your company can successfully achieve its mission for years to come.

Check out the resources below for more information on the pros of MBAs for Nonprofits:

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