Graduate Education Is Your Catalyst for Career Growth
Each year, many young professionals contact me through a variety of ways. In late 2017, several contacted me through coffee sessions, job interviews, visits at special events, AFP lunches, CFRE interactions, contacts as a favor from a colleague, etc. These individuals are either in the nonprofit field or deciding whether to pursue a nonprofit career. Many know what questions to ask while others seem clueless at times. I attempt to guide each person based upon their individual needs, wants and desires.
Among the questions asked of me, with the most frequency is the question of educational attainment. These practitioners have undergraduate degrees, but few have graduate degrees. They want to know if a graduate degree is important to their nonprofit career growth.
Before a conclusion is provided, I must first discuss the differences between undergraduate and graduate studies with them. The author of “7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School” points out quickly that big differences exist between college and graduate school.
She feels seven of the biggest differences are as follows:
- In graduate school, you will spend a lot more time on each individual course and constantly read. Higher quality in class is expected and ongoing individual presentations are a given.
- You will develop a laser focus on your topic of interest. You will spend a great deal of time on specific focus areas of study that generally relates to your work areas of focus.
- You are expected to become independent in thought, direction and research in your scholarly areas of study.
- You will be judged by completely different standards. Good grades are commonplace and expected. You will realize a C in graduate school is like an F in undergraduate school.
- You are highly visible. You are part of a small group, so you will be very visible to peers and faculty. Your faculty will form opinions about how you act, think and speak in class and at various department events.
- You will be more involved with your department and less involved with the rest of the university. You will be involved academically and less socially than undergraduate school.
- In graduate school, everyone wants to be there. Your mindset will change, and your career focus will intersect with your graduate study focus.
“What Is the Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate School?” is from a professors perspective and states that graduate students are held to a higher standard, expected to provide insight and relevant experiences to classroom content, become a sounding board to peers and are ready to work hard. Professors feel the more knowledge graduate students have regarding their area of study, the better people skills, social skills and research skills they will have in their careers.
Many young professionals that discuss careers with me are eventually seeking a nonprofit executive director position. In the Villanova University article titled, “Nonprofit Executive Director Career and Job Outlook,” it is immediately noted that working for a nonprofit is not just a job, but a calling.
Employers in this industry want an employee’s intellect, heart and soul especially at the upper management level. Among a host of duties, nonprofit executive directors are asked to fundraise as a major focus. They must engage the organizations many stakeholders including staff, volunteers, board members, administration, donors, etc.
Most nonprofits require their executive directors to have an advanced degree and candidates will need a broad liberal arts undergraduate background. A Master of Public Administration degree is particularly well suited to a nonprofit management career, because coursework includes nonprofit and financial management, leadership and strategic planning. With more than 1.5 million nonprofits operating in the U.S., many opportunities exist if you have the right training, background and education.
The article titled “6 Reasons Why Graduate School Pays Off” says that graduate education enhances your earnings potential and provides personal growth, greater employment opportunities, greater career advancement, financial rewards, sense of accomplishment, plus greater recognition and credibility. Experts say a graduate degree is a must for the nonprofit executive of the future.
According to The Balance, the following master’s degrees are examples of those in demand by individuals seeking degrees to enhance one’s career in the nonprofit field:
- MBA: Master of Business Administration
- MPA: Master of Public Administration
- MPP: Master of Public Policy
- MUP: Master of Urban Planning
- MSW: Master of Social Work
The Balance notes that a graduate degree will increase your value to an organization. It will help you leap past entry-level positions. You can find financial help, too, if seeking a graduate degree. Graduate schools may offer work-study programs, but make sure your graduate program is accredited. If possible, plan to attend graduate school fairs and follow your gut when deciding to go for a graduate degree.
My advice to anyone desiring a long-term career in the nonprofit sector is to obtain a graduate degree if possible. The graduate degree will serve as a catalyst for your nonprofit career. When I obtained my Master of Public Administration degree, my thesis dealt with an analysis of the comprehensive annual giving program at the University of Louisville, where I served in a resource development role. I received academic credit for an area of focus that enhanced my career development at the university.
The graduate study experience will allow you to grow and mature in an environment of learning that you will need to expand your career skill set. Even if a graduate degree is not possible, take graduate certificate courses and other educational pursuits that will better prepare you for changing professional work environments. Never seek to survive but always attempt to thrive. Education is one of the best attributes to help you obtain career objectives. Do not wait until you think the time is right. The time to begin the process of attaining of a graduate degree is now.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.