A Career in Nonprofit Management: Tips, Insights, & Resources

There are literally tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations throughout the United States that work tirelessly to improve and enrich varying interest groups, demographics, cultures and missions. Because they have such diverse focuses, there is plenty of work to go round — in fact, nonprofits are one of America’s top three largest employers, behind only retail and manufacturing, according to Philanthropy News Digest.

This means a fulfilling and promising job market exists for those with the right mix of interests, skills and education. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies shows the nonprofit sector to be a “reliable contributor to job growth” during productive as well as challenging economic times. If this type of community-enriching work piques your interest, there is no better time to enter the field of nonprofit management.

What is Nonprofit Management?

Nonprofit management and being a nonprofit manager entails overseeing all facets of a nonprofit organization’s operations, from day-to-day fulfillment of the mission and behind-the-scenes executive level work. In terms of necessary skills, nonprofit managers should be adept at developing resources, setting and aligning the mission, improving communication, leading the organizations and making executive decisions in the best interest of everyone.

As a nonprofit manager, one could expect to be in charge of:

  • Fundraising
  • Managing nonprofit employees
  • Attracting/retaining volunteers
  • Building effective boards
  • Marketing

What is Strategic Planning for Nonprofits?

Strategic planning — for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations — entails the same thing; setting measurable, achievable goals for the organization. According to the Council of Nonprofits, “a strategic planning process identifies strategies that will best enable a nonprofit to advance its mission. Ideally, as staff and board engage in the process, they become committed to measurable goals, approve priorities for implementation, and also commit to revisiting the organization’s strategies on an ongoing basis as the organization’s internal and external environments change.”

Good nonprofit managers will make strategic planning an ongoing and continuing practice that helps the organization stay on track, grow and ensure that they are continuously working to further the mission.

7 Nonprofit Management Tips

1. Believe in the Mission

A nonprofit’s mission is its core value system; the mission drives goals, business initiatives and ultimately actions. So to lead a nonprofit, it is essential that you are in line with and wholeheartedly believe in the mission, as it will be a major influence in nearly everything you do.

“Caring about the work that you’re doing and feeling like you’re making a difference is something that I thrive on personally,” said Jessica Parker, Development Director of New Hampshire-based nonprofit Cross Roads House. “But if the mission isn’t something that drives you, then that nonprofit may not be for you.”

2. Craft a Purposeful Fundraising Strategy

Nonprofits are largely dependent on fundraising revenue, and nonprofit managers are tasked with securing donations from a variety of different sources — individuals, corporations, foundations and the government — through a variety of different means. Unfortunately, many nonprofit organizations miss the mark on fundraising, or don’t have an actionable fundraising strategy.

To remedy that, nonprofit managers should create data-driven fundraising plans. Leverage data that demonstrates what the nonprofit does, how funds help further that mission and the way that previous funds helped accomplish a project or goal. Donors will be more apt to give to an organization that clearly demonstrates what impact their donation will have. From there, nonprofit managers can create segmented fundraising strategies based on different stakeholders and the cost-benefit analysis of different fundraising events and strategies.

3. Invest in Good Employees

A top priority for nonprofit managers should be finding, retaining and investing in their human capital, aka their employees. And, of course, things typically work best if your team members also share your passion for the mission. In addition to technical skills, ideal nonprofit employees should possess emotional intelligence as well as the necessary soft skills required to work in a nonprofit environment: creative, analytical, strategic, empathetic, flexible and a team player.

4. Learn the Fundamentals of Finance

One of the most important aspects of nonprofit management is ensuring the financial stability of the organization. To do that, managers should have a firm grasp of not only effective fundraising, but also financial management best practices. Nonprofit managers should have knowledge of basic accounting and should be able to accurately analyze and interpret required financial documents. They should also understand multi-year budgeting and be able to report on the organization’s financial position in a way that can be understood by key stakeholders.

5. Stay Up to Date on Nonprofit Laws & Legislation

Nonprofits are incorporated entities and it can be difficult to fully understand the laws and guidelines related to operating nonprofit organizations. To get ahead of any legal gray areas, nonprofit managers should be well-versed and up to date on all state and federal laws applicable to their organization. With this knowledge in hand, managers will be better equipped to ensure ethical and accountable practices within their organizations and be better positioned to avoid legal problems such as lawsuits.

6. Rethink Your Marketing Plans

Unfortunately, many nonprofit managers let marketing fall by the wayside, or they simply adopt the marketing initiatives of the leadership that came before them. This can hold nonprofits back from reaching their intended audience and their full potential. But a good, mission-centered marketing plan can make all the difference.

“We are trying to improve people’s lives and change the community for the better, so through our marketing pieces we’re letting folks know, here is how you make that happen,” said Parker of Cross Roads House. “That way, people feel connected and they feel like they want to continue supporting you.”

To craft a quality nonprofit marketing plan, managers should be sure to:

  • Understand the organization’s “product” and impact and be able to articulate that impact.
  • Measure organization outcomes and collect data to demonstrate the effectiveness of the organization so that they have a good story to tell.
  • Make connections with the media to help spread the organization’s message and story.
  • Market a social good – nonprofits market to change behavior or to raise money and should clearly communicate that message.

7. Leverage the Power of Your Board

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, nonprofit boards are responsible for steering the organization toward a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical legal governance and financial management policies, as well as by making sure the nonprofit has adequate resources to advance its mission.

“To really get the most out of the board of directors you have to be intentional around the formation of a board and recruitment, right from the get-go,” said Martha Stone, Executive Director of Cross Roads House. “You’re not just getting a name or a warm body to fill a seat; you need to say, here are the expectations and here is what we need from you to serve in this capacity on this board.”

Managers should first and foremost leverage the power of the board and the power of the relationships on the board for fundraising, networking and marketing initiatives. Nonprofit managers have a unique opportunity to act as a bridge between the day-to-day functions of the organization and the board. Using that position, managers can help encourage a proactive board that helps steer the organization toward success.

Nonprofit Management Resources




If you’re interested in making the jump into nonprofit work or would like to move into a managerial role, consider earning your Nonprofit Management Certificate from the University of San Diego’s Division of Professional and Continuing Education. This program is designed to help you build the professional and practical skills and knowledge needed to support the sustainability and growth of nonprofit organizations while introducing you to all of the essential areas of nonprofit management. For more information about this program, please contact us using the link or via our website.


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