Earning an Online Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management

Doctorate in nonprofit management online programs develop advanced skills in finance, organizational governance, and human capital administration. Nonprofit organizations use funds to empower education, support the arts, and serve marginalized communities. Professionals in this field act as advocates, educators, community organizers, and program directors.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business reported a 6% increase in doctoral enrollment for business students between 2011 and 2017. A nonprofit management doctorate prepares students for dedicated research and leadership positions. This guide provides in-depth information on program types, admission criteria, and degree structures. Distance learners can also gain insight into career options and professional development resources.

Why Get a Doctorate in Nonprofit Management?

Pursuing Specialization

On top of core topics like public administration, leadership, and philanthropy, Ph.D. in nonprofit management online students take classes in specialized areas. Colleges and universities may deliver specializations in human services, business informatics, teaching and training, and entrepreneurship. Even if a school does not provide dedicated specializations, the self-motivated quality of doctoral programs enables students to pursue their own academic interests through research and applied projects. Candidates work with academic advisors to create a course plan that supports their professional objectives.

Career Advancement Opportunities

For students who want to work for mission-oriented organizations, a doctoral degree offers the theoretical and hands-on training needed to become managers and directors. Although candidates may work as instructors at some colleges with a master's degree, doctoral credentials also enable professors to seek tenured positions and gain entry into prestigious universities. Additionally, this level of education prepares students for independent roles as freelance consultants and entrepreneurs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that doctoral degree holders earn an average of $18,000 more each year than professionals with only master's credentials.

Online Learning Technology

Due to the integrative and multimedia format of their academic training, distance learners can become expert communicators who have the ability to cogently present information to diverse audiences. As part of the nonprofit management curriculum, candidates cultivate information technology competencies that allow them to analyze large amounts of information and make data-supported decisions. In a globally connected economy, these communication skills help professionals lead multidisciplinary teams in diverse settings.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Nonprofit Management?

In addition to Ph.D. in nonprofit management online programs, some colleges and universities operate doctor of business administration (DBA) tracks in nonprofit management. Both degree options cover leadership competencies and ethical business concerns, including sustainability and corporate social responsibility. However, Ph.D. and DBA programs prepare candidates for different career paths. When choosing between these two degrees, prospective students should determine whether their professional goals center on conducting original research or applying existing theories to solve pertinent business challenges.

By earning an online Ph.D. in nonprofit management, students prepare to develop new concepts in such areas as strategic planning and organizational development. Ph.D. candidates occupy positions like employee training directors, chief advancement officers, and postsecondary instructors. Alternatively, DBA programs train students to apply theory to practice, engaging with public policy, assessment, and administrative issues at the organizational and government levels. Graduates may work as lobbyists, policy advisors, business analysts, and economic development directors.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Nonprofit Management Programs

DBA and Ph.D. applicants can expect to encounter conventional admission criteria, including minimum GPAs, career experience, and standardized test scores. However, to properly assess candidates, online doctoral programs usually use a holistic assessment process. Prospective students should always consult admission counselors to discern which qualities their prospective schools value most.

  • Work Experience: Online DBA and Ph.D. in nonprofit management programs routinely require applicants to possess substantial and relevant professional experience. However, higher education institutions may reduce or waive this requirement if candidates possess an MBA and/or a business-related professional certification and licensure. Of the two degree options, Ph.D. programs are more likely to admit students without work experience due to their focus on theory and research.
  • Exams and Test Scores: At the doctoral level, standardized test results become less important than academic and career accomplishments when it comes to determining a student's potential. Schools increasingly eschew GRE/GMAT/MAT scores. However, some Ph.D. programs do ask candidates to submit these results.
  • Coursework: Colleges and universities may require students to complete coursework in designated topics to ensure they possess the knowledge needed to successfully complete a program. Prerequisites are especially important for doctoral tracks since so much of a student's training centers on independent study and research. Applicants should expect prerequisite requirements in areas like statistics, finance, accounting, micro/macroeconomics, and research methodologies.
  • Recommendations: Ph.D. programs routinely ask applicants to submit 2-3 recommendation letters from academic or professional sources. Some schools may restrict who can provide references to former employers, highlighting the importance of work experience.
  • Essays: Doctoral program candidates typically submit a 1-2-page personal essay. This statement enables students to differentiate themselves from the applicant pool through narratives that detail their achievements, goals, and worldview. Most schools allow students to craft a personal statement in response to an open prompt, while other institutions require answers to specific essay questions.
  • Interviews: Like personal essays, interviews allow prospective students to personalize their application portfolio, elaborating on their professional and academic backgrounds. Schools use interviews to gauge a candidate's personality and willingness to collaborate with peers and professors. Interviews also represent a common step in obtaining graduate fellowships and assistantships.
  • International Students: Degree candidates who reside outside of the U.S. must apply for the F-1 Student Visa after they receive acceptance from their school. However, certain doctorate in nonprofit management online programs do not facilitate the student visa process. International students may also need to demonstrate English language proficiency by submitting IELTS or TOEFL scores.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Nonprofit Management?

By earning an online Ph.D. in nonprofit management, students cultivate skills in leadership, communication, and program development. Graduates benefit from high salaries. The BLS reports that professionals who occupy management positions earn from $49,260 (the 10th percentile) to $151,700 (the 90th percentile) per year. As with any industry, location, employer, and a candidate's qualifications also affect their earning potential. The following section details conventional career options for nonprofit management students.

Traditional Careers

Career Stats Description

Fundraising Manager

Median Pay: $114,800

Job Growth: 10%

These business leaders implement campaigns that bring in donations to organizations. Fundraising managers work with stakeholders and public relations specialists to develop program goals and strategies. They identify new revenue sources, contact prior donors, and meet with important donors. Fundraising managers also train volunteers and coordinate staff during annual and capital campaigns.

Training and Development Manager

Median Pay: $111,340

Job Growth: 10%

Training and development managers implement, oversee, and evaluate programs that improve the skills and knowledge of an organization's employees. In a nonprofit setting, they may also work with volunteers and contracted staff on short-term training sessions. These managers assess employee needs, create curricula, and pick training materials from internal/external vendors.

Social and Community Service Manager

Median Pay: $65,320

Job Growth: 18%

Working with community members and stakeholders, these managers identify areas of need and develop programs that provide necessary services. Social and community managers often focus on a particular population (e.g., children, women, or veterans) or a specific challenge (e.g., mental health, substance abuse, or unemployment). They write grant proposals, manage outreach events, and coordinate volunteers and staff.

Administrative Services Manager

Median Pay: $96,180

Job Growth: 10%

Administrative managers oversee supportive services within an organization. They may maintain facilities, manage bookkeeping and clerical tasks, and ensure a company's operations meet industry standards and government regulations. These business leaders can also specialize in information technology, securing an organization's data and training employees on proper usage.

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $78,470

Job Growth: 15%

College and university educators teach students in their subject area. Depending on the field, postsecondary teachers may conduct laboratory and field training exercises. Professors also help students find internships, pursue research opportunities, and apply for project funding. Postsecondary teachers may engage in their own research, publishing scholarly articles and presenting their findings at conferences.

Nontraditional Careers

Doctorate in nonprofit management online students can also find success in less traditional fields, like healthcare, homeland security, economic development, and entrepreneurship. This section covers a few alternative career options, describing some hard and soft skills that overlap with the traditional occupations found above. Some of these careers may require additional training through professional certification or licensure programs.

Career Stats Description

Medical and Health Services Manager

Median Pay: $99,730

Job Growth: 20%

These organizational leaders plan and direct health and medical services for hospitals and community centers. They can manage a single program/department or oversee an entire facility. Due to the complex nature of healthcare systems, medical and health managers also need to ensure their organizations meet government standards while providing quality services.

Skills overlapped: Program development, staff training and coordination, budgeting and financial management, professional communication

Operations Research Analyst

Median Pay: $83,390

Job Growth: 27%

Operations research analysts collect and evaluate information to strengthen organizational functions. They conduct employee surveys, analyze financial history, and use predictive modeling to help organizations solve challenges and make strategic decisions. These analysts may work for a single employer or as freelance consultants for a variety of clients.

Skills overlapped: Research project development, data analysis and presentation, stakeholder negotiation, professional communication

Emergency Management Director

Median Pay: $74,420

Job Growth: 8%

These leaders prepare for and respond to anthropogenic and natural disasters. Emergency management directors typically work for local or federal governments. They assess hazard potential and develop plans that minimize risk to property and people. Emergency management directors also develop emergency preparedness training programs for first responders, volunteers, and community members.

Skills overlapped: Program development, staff training and coordination, budgeting and financial management, professional communication


Median Pay: $104,340

Job Growth: 6%

These professional researchers study the production and distribution of services, resources, and goods. They use mathematical methods and statistical software to analyze economic conditions and the subsequent effects on companies and communities. In the nonprofit sector, economists work with community organizations to discern and solve challenges faced by underserved groups.

Skills overlapped: Research project development, data analysis and presentation, stakeholder negotiation, professional communication

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Paying for a Doctorate in Nonprofit Management Online

Students invest significant amounts of time and money to earn a DBA or Ph.D. in nonprofit management online. Fortunately, many colleges and universities try to attract distance learners by offering relatively low per-credit tuition prices that often disregard residency status. Graduate candidates can also access government funding by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA facilitates need-based grants, low-interest loans, and repayment/forgiveness programs.

Scholarships for Online Nonprofit Management Students

On top of federal funding, online graduate students can access private scholarships and grants. These awards come from universities, community organizations, businesses, and industry-specific associations. Criteria differ but generally center on a student's field of study; target career path; and identity markers, such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. The following list contains five awards for students in the nonprofit management field.

What to Expect from an Online Nonprofit Management Program

Earning an online Ph.D. in nonprofit management typically take 3-5 years, but some students take up to 10 years depending on the rigor of their dissertation work and the pace at which they complete classes. Graduate candidates usually spend the first two years of their doctoral program taking coursework through online platforms like Blackboard and Canvas. They spend the remaining time engaged in fellowships and self-motivated research, preparing their dissertation. For business students, this process usually involves hands-on collaboration with clients and partner companies.

Major Milestones

  1. Practicum Experience

    Doctoral candidates engage in hands-on training as an integral part of their education. For learners who obtain fellowship or assistantship positions, the practicum experience may involve teaching and research. Nonprofit management students can also apply for internships with local companies and university partners.

  2. Dissertation Research

    Dissertation work represents another crucial aspect of doctorate in nonprofit management online programs. Students begin independent research shortly after enrolling in their program. Universities encourage candidates to publish their research in scholarly journals and present at academic conferences.

  3. Dissertation Defense

    Doctoral candidacy culminates in a dissertation defense before a faculty committee and, depending on the nature of the dissertation, industry experts. Candidates explain their work and answer questions from their committee.

  4. Comprehensive Examination

    Some colleges and universities -- particularly schools that offer DBA programs -- require students to pass a comprehensive exam to earn their credentials. These tests may include written and oral components that assess a student's mastery of designated competencies.

  5. Professional Certification/Licensure

    Students who want to work in specialized fields, like healthcare management or information systems, may need to obtain professional certification or licensure to find employment. This guide details certification/licensure programs in a later section.

  6. Continuing Education

    Continuing education through certification and non-credit training programs enables practitioners to stay abreast of changes and trends in the business field. Continuing education also represents a key requirement in maintaining professional certification and licensure.


Students who obtain their Ph.D. in nonprofit management online take core classes related to financial management and strategic decision-making. Remaining coursework differs based on a learner's degree, specialization, and/or elective choices. The list below details five popular courses in this field.

Nonprofit Leadership and Management

Students learn to align management techniques with nonprofit values. Coursework covers mission-driven leadership, volunteer and staff training, and donor/stakeholder considerations. Learners also delve into the diversity of organizational structures.

Applied Statistical Analysis

This course helps students build a toolkit for analyzing and applying data. These skills aid their dissertation research and prepare learners to make data-supported managerial decisions. Topics include ethnography, phenomenology, case methods, action research, and comparative-historical inquiry.

Nonprofit Governance

This fundamental class trains students to cultivate effective working relationships between staff, board members, and unpaid personnel. Candidates learn to engage volunteers before, during, and after projects. Participants also examine executive development, succession planning, and leadership training.

Ethical Issues in Nonprofit Management

In this course, students delve into business ethics in relation to organizational operations and professional practice within nonprofit organizations. They examine program governance and long-term financial stability. The class also covers the social responsibility of for-profit companies to support nonprofit enterprises.

Government and Community Funding

This advanced class delves into diverse funding types for nonprofit organizations. Students learn about government funds, community and private sources, and grants and contracts. They also develop grant-writing skills and the ability to manage funds for organizational growth.

Degree Timelines

DBA and Ph.D. in nonprofit management online programs usually consist of about 60 credits. This section details three main degree plans and their effects on course structure and financial aid.


Time to Complete: 5-10 years

Part-time enrollment may appeal to students with work and family obligations. Candidates take one or two classes at a time for roughly four years. They spend the remainder of the program immersed in dissertation research or applied projects. Colleges and universities may not offer funding for part-time students.


Time to Complete: 4-5 years

The most popular degree timeline, full-time attendance enables students to graduate in 4-5 years. Candidates spend the first two years completing required courses and their final 2-3 years working on capstone requirements. Full-time students benefit from a complete array of institutional and private aid options, including access to scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships.


Time to Complete: 3 years

While uncommon, students may be able to enroll in accelerated DBA programs. This availability is due to the DBA's focus on practical training, which allows students to fulfill major requirements through relevant career experience. Furthermore, DBA programs usually culminate with an applied project, which takes less time to complete than dissertation work.

Licenses and Certifications

Students who earn a doctorate in nonprofit management online can develop specialized competencies by pursuing licensure and certification. Depending on their industry, professionals may also be legally required to obtain credentials in order to work. However, for most nonprofit leaders, licenses and certifications represent optional ways to advance their careers.

  • Certified Nonprofit Professional: The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance offers this certification program through its national university partners. Candidates need a bachelor's degree to apply. They must complete designated coursework, 300 internship hours, and leadership and service activities. On top of hands-on training, the CNP program provides career guidance and conferencing opportunities.
  • Certified Fund Raising Executive: The only accredited credential for philanthropic fundraising professionals, the CFRE program offers distinct third-party recognition of a candidate's advanced skills. The application works on a point system; candidates must accrue a certain number of points related to their academic and professional achievements to qualify for certification. Individuals must also pass a written exam, which covers six core knowledge areas.
  • Certified Community Action Professional: This certification program supports professionals working in community-oriented and government support organizations, including employers associated with the Community Services Block Grant. To earn this credential, candidates partner with a mentor and, over the course of two years, document training sessions and professional accomplishments.
  • Project Management Institute Certifications: PMI delivers eight certifications for business leaders, including Program Management Professional and Professional in Business Analysis credentials. To sit for certification examinations, candidates need a college degree and 4,000-8,000 hours of relevant professional experience. Exams typically last four hours and contain 170-200 multiple-choice questions in designated knowledge areas.

Professional Organizations and Resources

The best DBA and Ph.D. in nonprofit management online programs help students develop advanced research and leadership skills. However, degree candidates can further expand their opportunities by engaging with professional organizations. Membership often requires an annual fee but provides access to scholarships, travel grants, and project funding. Members gain the support of peers and colleagues through online forums, special interest groups, and national/international conferences. Professional organizations also offer skill development programs, such as the in-person leadership academy facilitated by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals: Established in 1960, AFP supports over 31,000 nonprofit leaders through strategic planning and diversity/inclusion initiatives. Aspiring professionals can access resources through college chapters, including a mentorship program. The association also operates nonprofit research collaborative services.
  • American Management Association: AMA offers tools and services that help business leaders achieve organizational success. Members can access online courses, certification programs, and continuing education opportunities. The association also delivers a women's leadership academy.
  • Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement: Founded in 2009, AL!VE establishes research standards and best practices for volunteer management professionals. Members benefit from networking opportunities, technological support, and resource management tools. The association also operates skill-specific webinars and a yearly hybrid conference.
  • American Society of Association Executives: With more than 44,000 members, ASAE advocates for professionals in executive management and nonprofit leadership positions. Resources include certification and online learning programs. Members also gain access to a comprehensive library of research-focused journals and articles. Furthermore, the society posts job listings and facilitates conferences year round.
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management: AAHAM advocates for healthcare professionals, including individuals working at nonprofit and community organizations. Resources include certification opportunities and discounts on literature and training programs. Members can collaborate online and through 32 local AAHAM chapters.
  • Executive DBA Council: As a worldwide organization, EDBAC connects business students, professionals, and advocates through action research and leadership training. Prospective DBA candidates can compare accredited programs to find the school that best suits their needs. The council also hosts conferences and publishes research publications.
  • The PhD Project: This nonprofit organization provides guidance and tools for African American, Hispanic American, and Native American students pursuing doctorates in business. Students can access financial resources, networking opportunities, and dissertation research support.
  • National Council of Nonprofits: This council supports U.S. charitable and community associations through research initiatives and policy advocacy. Associations and professionals benefit from a vast library of resources, including tools for fundraising.
  • Entrepreneurs' Organization: Established in 1987, EO supports more than 13,000 entrepreneurs in 58 countries. The organization provides mentorship programs and global networks that help professionals advance their careers. EO also operates executive education classes and local chapter meetings.
  • NonprofitReady: This website delivers over 400 free learning resources for nonprofit management students and professionals. These tools include online classes that cover grant writing, fundraising, volunteer engagement, and marketing practices. Users can also learn how to conceptualize and build their own nonprofit organization.