MBA Studies and Nonprofits
Highly successful businesses and nonprofit organizations may seem like polar opposites to many people. But according to Beyond Gray Pinstripes, more than 30 percent of MBA programs now offer a concentration in social and environmental issues, while 79 percent require a course in those areas. These numbers signal an increasing emphasis in understanding the rhetoric and organizational structures of nonprofits. But only six percent of MBA graduates actually aspire to work in the nonprofit sector, according to Net Impact, an organization that assists business students in using their skills for the social good. So why, exactly, are so many business students studying nonprofits?
Business Savvy in the Social Sector
While MBA graduates may not be flocking to non-profits, the few who do end up working with non-profits do have a noticeable impact. Business students bring to the table an understanding of finance and organizational scalability that is often lacking in nonprofit organizations. Small organizations that wish to grow or simply to arrive at a more financially secure position can benefit enormously from the talents of an MBA. However, barriers do exist between nonprofits and MBAs. Nonprofits and MBA students both harbor views of each other that can be uninformed and less than positive, and few nonprofits can afford to pay the salaries that many MBA students expect upon graduation.
Board Fellowship Programs
One way that MBA students are successfully connecting with nonprofit organizations is through board fellowship programs. These programs, which are offered by an increasing number of business schools, match MBA students with participating nonprofits for a limited term of service. The students gain experience examining organizational structures and working directly with decision-makers in the nonprofit sector; the nonprofits gain the insight of highly educated and experienced business students. Since the creation of the first board fellowship program at Stanford in 1997, the programs have proliferated, numbering 49 in 2010. While business students may not want to commit to a lifetime of nonprofit work, these programs show that successful partnerships are possible.
The few MBA students who do choose to enter the nonprofit sector upon graduation do seem to gain the satisfaction of having a real impact in their organizations, and many probably take on more responsibility more quickly than they would be able to in a large corporation. The popularity of board fellowship programs also indicates the presence of, and potential for,dynamic connections between nonprofits and MBAs which benefit both groups. The possibility of more connections of this kind — perhaps in the form of MBA internships at nonprofits, for instance — is exciting and could help to bridge the gap between this two distinct worlds.