7 Popular Nonprofit Management Careers

Industry Advice Management

Nonprofit management careers are growing in demand. While many nonprofit organizations have become more prominent, it often comes as a surprise that the sector has the third-largest payroll in the United States economy. In the U.S., more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations fuel 12.3 million jobs. When you consider that job growth in the nonprofit sector has outpaced for-profit businesses by nearly 400 percent in recent years, it’s easy to see that career opportunities are thriving. 

“The role of nonprofits has gained a tremendous amount of visibility during the past year, especially in healthcare, education, and social services,” says Monica Borgida, lead faculty of Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Nonprofit Management (MSNPM) program. “Covid-19 has shown how nonprofits are essential across the globe. There’s tremendous career opportunity, and within the sector, there is a desperate need for leaders with financial, management, and design thinking skills.”

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Competing for Nonprofit Management Jobs

While this outlook is great news for students and career changers with a passion for creating societal change, increased competition for top jobs makes an advanced degree an appealing option. A master’s degree has become essential for students that want to contribute to purpose-driven organizations. “Being passionate about a nonprofit’s mission and vision is not enough,” Borgida says. “Candidates need to know about legal and governance issues, management challenges, and how to create a successful campaign or development strategy.”

Borgida notes that as the nonprofit sector becomes more competitive, it is essential that organizations are able to prove their effectiveness beyond good storytelling. “Competition for resources is intense. Leaders know that fundraising is tied to an organization’s ability to develop metrics that provide a clear measure of how effective their work is and the impact that they create. Good performance reporting requires deep financial and analytical skills.” 

While nonprofit careers are exceptionally rewarding, a master’s degree is essential to leadership jobs and top salaries. Whether you’re working in the sector and concerned about advancement prospects, considering a career change, or perhaps even launching your own venture, it’s well worth considering how a master’s degree could forward your trajectory. 

Top Nonprofit Management Careers and Salaries

Nonprofit salaries vary greatly across the United States and by the organization’s size, type, and resources. Here’s a look at some of the best paying jobs within the sector.

1. Advocacy Director

Salary range: $71,000-$119,000

Advocacy is critical in organizations that rely heavily on public funding. As such, advocacy directors are highly visible and influential. They work with policymakers, government officials, boards, community groups, donors, and other external stakeholders, to move the organizational mission forward. Along with communications and public relations partners, they create a voice for the organization and the communities they serve.

As competition for both public attention and funds heats up, advocacy directors are on the front line, keeping up with issues and needs that tie to their organization’s mission and promoting legislation that positively impacts constituents. 

If you’re considering a career as an advocacy director, you must have strong planning, organizational development, and strategic skills. Financial and technological knowledge is essential, as are strong communication skills, including public speaking. 

2. Chief Executive Officer

Salary range: $104,000-$271,000

The role of a chief executive officer (CEO) varies greatly depending on the organization’s size. In small and mid-size organizations, the title is often interchangeable with executive director or president. However the position is named, this lead executive directs general management with most areas of the organization reporting into their office, including strategy, finance, board management, fundraising, program management, and delivery.

Success in the role is partly measured by the organization’s ability to meet short- and long-term goals and deliver on its overall vision. While corporate chief executives mold an organization’s strategic direction, nonprofit executives often collaborate with their board of directors to shape planning. Their prime responsibility is executing the board’s vision on a day-to-day basis. Most nonprofit CEOs take a very active role in fundraising.

To become a chief executive, advanced leadership and management skills are a must. You must be as comfortable tackling a spreadsheet as you are inspiring staff, volunteers, and donors. Operational experience is also key. To move your organization forward, effectiveness requires efficiency. 

3. Chief Operating Officer

Salary range: $73,000-$203,000

Chief operating officers (COOs) in a nonprofit operate similarly to their corporate counterparts. Their primary responsibility is to monitor all parts of the organization, remove obstacles, and keep all functions on track. COOs are generalists that need to have a deep understanding of how all departments work in tandem with others to support the organization’s mission. They are key players within management teams and are charged with building and executing long-term operational strategies that allow the organization to meet its goals. COOs are likely involved with staffing and hiring, often making the final decisions.

A good COO is flexible, and their job is often defined by the strengths and weaknesses of the management team. In many organizations, they are charged with internal troubleshooting, allowing the CEO to remove issues from their plate so that they can focus on fundraising, marketing, and other external essentials.

It’s vital for a COO to have excellent broad-based leadership and management skills, with solid financial and technological knowledge, in order to oversee multiple functions and disciplines. A good COO is a strategic thinker and a visionary, focused on constantly improving organizational systems.

4. Communications Director

Salary range: $88,000-$119,000

A nonprofit communications director is responsible for determining the messaging and information that the organization disseminates to the public through all of its available channels, including social media. The role requires the ability to think both proactively and reactively in order to shape the message in an often volatile media landscape. In a small organization, the communications director may be a team of one, while a larger and more sophisticated organization could have multiple players and even outside agency support. While public relations efforts are usually the core of the job, it’s common for a communications director to also create the content for fundraising campaigns and events.

In addition to external messaging, communications directors often manage the flow of information within the organization as well. The communications director is likely a key member of the management team. As with most roles in a nonprofit, the configuration of the job is determined by the needs, size, scope, and resources of the organization.

If a senior communications role is your career goal, you’ll need to have excellent written, presentation, speaking, and interpersonal skills. A good communications director must be able to understand finance and governance in addition to the organization’s operations and mission. The role also demands problem-solving skills and the confidence to act quickly amid uncertainty.

5. Development Director

Salary range: $68,000-$171,000

Development directors have the difficult task of ensuring their nonprofit has enough funding to fuel the organization’s work and keep their future secure. Fundraising for most nonprofits is ongoing and mission-critical. Organizations generate funds with different balances of sources, and funding formulas vary widely depending on the work of the organization. While some groups are able to fund much of their work with grants, others may rely more heavily on individual giving. 

Development directors create and execute the strategy to find, maintain, and grow individual donors and funding sources, including grants, events, sponsorships, and corporate relationships. The position typically reports into the executive director, but many structures exist across the industry. As the chief fundraiser, the position may work closely with board members charged with bringing in funds. Development directors also frequently report and present plans and results related to short- and long-term goals.

Development directors build relationships and solve problems. So to become a successful development director, you’ll have to be as comfortable with complex financial and legal matters as you are with presenting to individuals and groups. The position also requires significant knowledge of available fundraising technology.

6. Major Gifts Officer

Salary range: $83,000-$160,000

Major gifts are the largest individual donations that a nonprofit receives. The definition of what constitutes major depends on the organization. While $2,000 could be a huge gift for a small or start-up nonprofit, $200,000 might have an equivalent impact at a larger organization.

Major gifts officers are cultivators and relationship builders. They seek out individuals that have the means to donate and a potential interest in the organization’s work. Major gifts officers are persistent, dedicated, and driven by the intersection of needs between a donor and the nonprofit. The job likely includes hosting events with potential and existing donors, working with board members to explore their personal networks, and creating presentations that show the effectiveness of the organization’s efforts and how major gifts are used.

Major gifts officers typically work within the development team and report into the head of that function. While financial and governance knowledge is critical to success in this position, candidates must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well.

7. Program Director

Salary range: $85,000-$180,000

The work of a program director will vary widely from organization to organization. Different missions lead to uniquely tailored programs focused on meeting stakeholder needs. In general, program directors develop and implement programmatic strategies that meet their organization’s goals. Their work includes building, managing, and developing teams as well as creating, evaluating, and improving operational and program delivery standards. Program directors plan and work within an annual budget and often are involved with developing funding proposals. The job is typically both internal and external facing.

If your interest in a nonprofit career is based on hands-on delivery of programs and services, you’ll need strong overall management and leadership skills. Communication, technology, and analytical knowledge are also frequently required.

Accelerate Your Nonprofit Management Career with an Advanced Degree 

Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Nonprofit Management program is designed to prepare students for the complexities that nonprofit organizations face in turbulent times. While it’s essential to have a passion for purpose-driven work, the sector has become extremely competitive as more students seek to combine their personal and professional interests. Northeastern’s nonprofit curriculum is led by top professors and industry experts. It’s designed to give you the option of adding professional experiences into your personalized Master of Science pathway, giving you a significant advantage throughout your career.

Learn more about the advantages of earning your MS in Nonprofit Management at Northeastern University.

Learn more about Northeastern's MS in NPM