Are Business Degrees and NGOs the Perfect Match?
- Student Tips
When most people think of life after business school, thoughts of the fast-paced, cutthroat corporate world may immediately come to mind. But b-school degrees are not only suitable for but sought after by organizations in other sectors as well, including one which has a very different agenda than the world of business: NGOs. Let’s take a closer look at how going to business schoo can help you land an NGO job in order to start truly making a difference in the world.
B-School Degrees Offer “One-Stop Shopping”
NGOs may have different objectives than their corporate counterparts, but they still require many of the same components to succeed. Organizations looking for the best shot of success in the increasingly competitive non-profit world are turning to b-school grads for their breadth and depth of skills -- the majority of which can be strategically applied to NGO management.
Some of these are obvious. For example, an NGO leader with a background in accounting or economics brings key business sense to the position. A less obvious angle of expertise in today’s brand-centric society? Marketing and communications. Why? Because while NGOs may not be selling a particular product or service in the conventional sense, they are selling causes and ideas to a particular market. Taking it one step further, they also share another critical need with businesses: customers, AKA “donors” in the NGO world.
The same marketing mix comprising the 4Ps (product, place, price and promotion) taught in b-school applies to NGOs. B-school grads with the knowledge and skills to carry over these principles for the purposes of NGOs can play a vital role in helping the organizations they represent attract donors, build their brands, and achieve their missions.
As Christine Letts, faculty chair of the Strategic Frameworks for Nonprofit Organisations executive education program at the Harvard Kennedy School, told The Financial Times, “Marketing, identity and communications is one of the weakest muscles in nonprofits. We have conditioned nonprofits to describe themselves in a way a potential donor will find attractive, instead of saying: ‘This is what we stand for’.”
The Role of Results
Also more imperative than ever before? The “responsibility” part of the “social responsibility” equation, ie. the ability to show actual results. In other words, while having a mission and values is essential, stakeholders are looking for concrete evidence that their dollars and efforts are being put to best use. This can be easier said than done given the right economy and numerous challenges across everything from tech transformation to the changing needs of their constituents.
B-Schools Getting In On the Action
The call for social responsibility is stronger than ever with both consumers and donors insisting on more ethical behavior and accountability from businesses and NGOs alike. This not only necessitates the need for more highly trained leaders in the nonprofit sector, but also for social responsibility positions at for-profit enterprises.
Business schools are responding to escalating demanding by tailoring programs aimed at providing NGO-specific training. These nonprofit management programs aren’t focused on positioning future leaders for big salaries, but instead to make real change and drive social impact through integrated business principles and practices. MBA in Business programs are vast.
Another noteworthy trend? In addition to new-to-NGOs just entering the sector, leaders already ensconced in the sector for their organization-specific know-how are returning to b-school to acquire core business competencies, ranging from crisis management techniques to fund management. B-school can also teach leaders to think beyond mere management and into the uncharted territory of innovation. The result? The newfound ability to overcome barriers to growth and penetrate new markets.
One last thing to keep in mind if you’re hoping to parlay your business degree into an NGO position at the international level? Don’t underestimate the value of speaking a second language. While doing so is a convenience in some cases, it’s a requirement in others. For example, if you aspire to work for the United Nations, you must be fluent in at least one of its primary languages.
The takeaway for aspiring b-school students and NGO managers alike? Not only are the two paths reciprocal, but they’re also surprisingly symbiotic. And this relationship isn’t expected to change anytime soon. In fact, insiders predict that as the barriers between the business and NGO sphere continue to blur, they’ll become even more intertwined moving forward.
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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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