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Best online doctorate in nonprofit management 2021: Top picks

If you're interested in pursuing a terminal degree that leads to a career helping people and solving problems, a nonprofit management doctorate may be for you.

Nonprofit management doctorate program graduates lead organizations that strive to make the world better. Whether the organization focuses on climate change, human rights, or international crises, nonprofit management requires compassionate leadership, clear communication, an eye for detail, and a commitment to philanthropy. Nonprofit managers need skills in finance, contracts and grants, human resources, and volunteer supervision.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an employment growth rate of 15% during 2020-2030 for social and community service managers and 13% for public relations and fundraising managers. Those statistics, combined with the possibility of earning six-figures for Ph.D.-holders, make nonprofit management a field worth looking into.

Continue reading to learn about the possible educational paths for nonprofit professionals.

The best online doctorate in nonprofit management degrees

ZDNet's ranking methodology uses data-driven information that is rigorously reviewed by experts in the field. Schools cannot pay to be included on our lists, and we select programs independent of any financial interest. Our rankings include only the highest quality programs. 

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.

1. University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

About the program: University of Arizona's Global Campus offers an online Ph.D. in human services, a 62-credit program that develops students' leadership skills for careers helping underserved populations.

  • Acceptance rate: 85%
  • Graduation rate: 63%
  • Avg. annual net price: $22,000
  • Time to completion: Three to four years
  • GRE/GMAT: Not required
  • Minimum GPA: 3.0
  • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous, except for three in-residence weekend workshops

Accreditation: University of Arizona is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

2. Eastern University

Saint Davids, Pennsylvania

About the program: Designed for nonprofit professionals who want to enhance their decision-making skills and scholarship, faith-based Eastern University's online Ph.D. in organizational leadership offers a concentration in nonprofit and public administration. 

  • Acceptance rate: 61%
  • Graduation rate: 61%
  • Avg. annual net price: $22,000
  • Time to completion: Three to four years
  • GRE/GMAT: Not required
  • Minimum GPA: 3.2
  • Enrollment periods per year: One
  • Course delivery methods: Blended online and in-residency learning

Accreditation: Eastern University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Doctorate in nonprofit management courses

While curriculums and course titles vary, nonprofit management doctoral students can expect to encounter common topics, including those listed below, that encompass practical, theoretical, and research program elements.

Advocacy and public policy

Students learn to analyze policy and apply strategies for engaging the public and government. They also evaluate historic models of public participation in policy and compare policy-making methods on a global scale.

Leadership theory and practice

This course introduces leadership literature and examines the complexity of leadership and the components of leadership theory. Enrollees are challenged to critically evaluate their own leadership practices within their organizations.

Professional and business ethics in organizational leadership

Doctoral students explore historical and contemporary issues in business and professional ethics, along with proven approaches to promoting and facilitating an organization's ethical practices and operations.

Research design and methods

This course covers quantitative and qualitative methods and provides opportunities to critique, develop, and test research ideas and designs. Learners explore approaches that include ethnography, case studies, narrative, and participatory action.

Nonprofit management degree levels

The right degree to pursue depends on your career goals. If you want to enter the nonprofit world relatively soon, a bachelor's degree can land you an entry-level management job. To qualify for higher level positions like executive director or chief executive officer, you will need a graduate degree. 

Bachelor's in nonprofit management

  • Length: Four years 
  • Cost: $320-$570 per credit
  • Post-grad careers: Fundraising manager, nonprofit program coordinator, social and community services manager

At the bachelor's degree level, nonprofit management is often offered as a concentration for business administration majors. Online learners complete an average of 120 credits delivered via asynchronous coursework in advocacy, fundraising, grant writing, leadership, and managing budgets. 

Programs may include internships near students' homes and culminate with capstone seminars and projects. Successful students tend to be strong communicators who work well with people and pay attention to detail. Graduates typically find employment as program managers within an organization. 

Master's in nonprofit management

  • Length: Two to three years 
  • Cost: $350-$578 per credit 
  • Post-grad careers: Advocacy director, executive director, major gifts officer

Many nonprofit leadership positions require a nonprofit management master's degree. Some students already work in the nonprofit sector and want to advance their careers, while others hold bachelor's degrees in other fields and want to make a directional shift.

Online course delivery at the master's level tends to be asynchronous, allowing distance learners to continue working. Graduates emerge with skills in finance, human resources, philanthropy, strategic planning, and volunteer management. Some programs offer thesis and non-thesis options and experiential learning opportunities.

Doctorate in nonprofit management

  • Length: Three to five years 
  • Cost: $375-$1,995 per credit
  • Post-grad careers: Chief executive officer, management consultant, postsecondary professor

A nonprofit management doctorate qualifies graduates for high-level executive, philanthropic, and academic positions in nonprofit organizations and higher education. Coursework focuses on communication, financial management, fundraising, organizational leadership, and research, and students develop advanced skills in decision-making, problem-solving, and strategic planning.

Doctoral programs typically consist of 48-60 credits of core, specialization, and elective coursework, along with a dissertation or capstone project. Some curriculums include practicum or research projects and final examinations.

In conclusion

Nonprofit management appeals to students and professionals looking for rewarding and challenging work that benefits underserved populations and seeks to solve problems. If that sounds like you, this guide provides a jumping-off point to a new career. Explore the program websites on this page to find your best path.

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