I've worked in fundraising for a long time, and a few years ago, I decided to earn a master's degree in business administration. This was no small decision for someone whose undergraduate degree was in music: I knew my way around a piano keyboard but not a boardroom.
Once I enrolled, the most frequent question I received was, "What are you going to do with your MBA?" Truthfully, I didn't have a good answer.
Initially, accounting, statistics, and risk-management courses seemed totally unrelated to securing a first-time meeting with a new prospect. I realized that the DuPont Analysis, a way to determine how companies can increase returns for investors, probably wouldn't add zeroes to any gift I solicit. And I knew my relationships with donors wouldn't be strengthened because I could arrange tasks in a "Gantt chart."
I recall many occasions when pressing on was challenging, especially when my colleagues didn't see the value of the time, money, and sweat equity I was putting into my "theoretical" coursework.
However, Catherine Gill at the Nonprofit Finance Fund, which delivers financial and advisory services to nonprofits that serve their local communities, sees it differently. "The MBA degree is incredibly broad and teaches people how to approach problems from different angles," she says. And employees with an MBA "bring a really sharp understanding of teams and how to access resources that aren't always obvious," she adds.
Benefits for Nonprofit Work
As I enter the homestretch, I now understand how this degree will help my work and career. If you're considering earning your MBA or you're looking to hire someone who has one, here are few areas in which people with a business degree can strengthen nonprofits.
Team dynamics and organizational culture. Anyone who has gone through an MBA program has been assigned to a team. I think I have been on 13 teams so far. They were definitely diverse and not all highly functional. Sound familiar?
In most of my classes, teams were chosen at random and with no clear leader. Yet we were challenged to work together — in person and online — and quickly figure out how to find a solution from different angles. We learned how to apply our individual strengths to produce a research paper or a live presentation. Most important, we learned how to communicate with each other despite differences in culture, age, gender, and educational background. Earning an MBA helped me develop the ability to work within and lead diverse teams to complete a complex series of steps and produce results.
Quantitative and analytical skills. Today's donors are becoming more sophisticated and data-driven. Nonprofits must produce quantifiable results to inform grant makers, and when evaluating results, anecdotal evidence alone won't cut it. In addition, nonprofits must be fiscally responsible when securing and disbursing money to beneficiaries. People with MBAs understand the principles of accounting, finance, and economics, which can help a nonprofit endure or avoid financial hardship.
Organizational change and growth. In many of my classes, I have been examining global business trends and opportunities for disruption, which seems a bit lofty compared with my day-to-day responsibilities. Yet digital technology is transforming our world, and nonprofits often struggle to stay on top of emerging trends. Pursuing my MBA has helped me think differently and often prompts me to ask myself how to innovate and improve the fundraising process at my job and elsewhere.
As I finish my coursework, I can state with confidence why I pursued an advanced business degree: because skills in financial management, marketing, negotiations, human capital development, and relationship development will help make nonprofits stronger and prepare them for the future. I want to be a part of that.
Amy Krauss is a fundraiser in Philadelphia. She will earn her MBA from Temple University in December.