Ph.D. In Nonprofit Management

Updated April 10, 2023

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Online Doctorate in Nonprofit Management Rankings, Salaries & Courses

A Ph.D. can benefit nonprofit professionals who want to secure top leadership roles, teach in higher education institutions, or conduct and publish research in respected academic journals. A doctorate can make a significant career impact, but earning the degree requires perseverance, commitment to the field, and deep interest in researching the subject. Nevertheless, a professional with a Ph.D. earns on average $600,000 more over their lifetime than a professional with a master's degree. Employers value doctoral-level education not only because it demonstrates character and commitment but also because leaders with doctorates understand research and data analytics, along with day-to-day leadership activities.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management

Pursuing a Ph.D. can feel like a long and challenging process, but the potential impact often maximizes a leader's capacity. New opportunities in teaching, research, and organizational leadership can help expand a leader's influence in the nonprofit sector. From there, that leader's influence can multiply and affect larger social movements.

IconCollege Teaching Opportunities

By teaching at a college or university, professionals can equip the next generation of leaders in their field. Most higher education institutions require a doctorate from each faculty member, even from adjuncts and part-time teachers.

IconAdvanced Research and Publication

Earning a doctorate exposes students to advanced research practices. After concluding their academic programs, students can continue their research, ultimately publishing in journals and speaking at nonprofit industry conferences.

IconExpanded Influence

Earning a doctorate in nonprofit management may help leaders secure more influence in their field. This leadership can come either through formal leadership roles or through thought leadership, such as publications, speaking roles, and organizational consulting opportunities.

IconOrganizational Leadership Roles

Professionals who hold strong academic credentials may receive opportunities to take top leadership roles, such as chief executive officer positions. Educational nonprofits in particular expect their leaders to secure the best degrees possible.

IconEnhanced Societal Impact

Expanded influence and authority in the nonprofit sector often means greater social, economic, or political impact. Due to the industry's mission of social change, gaining more knowledge in the nonprofit field only enhances a professional's influence on the world at large. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Online Ph.D. in Nonprofit Management Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Nonprofit Management?

A doctorate in an applied field like nonprofit management can enable experienced professionals to pursue various career paths and subfields. Typically, students who earn a Ph.D. go into teaching or higher education administration, while those who pursue a DBA or other applied doctorate take leadership roles in the industry.

Job titles can vary, especially in nonprofit and educational settings. Generally, however, a doctorate can propel professionals into senior leadership positions at organizations or help college teachers secure tenure or enter into administration. A Ph.D. can also equip professionals with the credentials to secure leadership roles in industry-wide associations or initiatives.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

Earning a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online can open many career opportunities, including top leadership roles at medical and social service organizations. A Ph.D. in this field prepares students for organizational leadership, education, and research-heavy positions. Professionals with doctorates in nonprofit management may also secure jobs as teachers or administrators in higher education settings.

Top Executives

Top executives plan and direct an organization's vision and activities. These professionals may govern an entire organization or lead a specific section, such as finance or programs.

Average Annual Salary:$104,980

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and community service managers lead social service programs or community organizations. Educational requirements depend on the complexity of the organization and the nature of the social intervention the agency promotes.

Average Annual Salary:$65,320

Medical and Health Services Managers

Sometimes called healthcare executives, medical and health services managers lead hospitals, clinics, healthcare agencies, or practices of physicians groups. Most of these professionals hold a graduate degree along with advanced experience in the field.

Average Annual Salary:$99,730

Postsecondary Education Administrators

At the postsecondary level, administrators include the president and chief officers of student life, academics, finance, development, marketing, and more. These professionals often hold doctorates along with extensive experience in their specific areas of educational leadership.

Average Annual Salary:$94,340

Postsecondary Teachers

College or university teachers design and conduct courses, advise students, and grade assignments. These professionals also engage in research, publish their findings, and serve on school committees. Nearly all postsecondary teachers must hold a doctorate.

Average Annual Salary:$78,470

Nonprofit Management Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

Specific requirements vary from school to school for admission to and graduation from a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online program. Typically, however, students need a master's degree, preferably in business administration or nonprofit leadership, from a regionally accredited university. For regular admission, applicants also must hold a 3.0 or better GPA and three years or more of experience in the field. Once enrolled, doctoral students complete about 60 credits, which includes the dissertation. In some programs, students may transfer in up to 15 of these credits from another degree or from doctoral-level courses taken elsewhere.

Students usually take 3-5 years to complete their doctorates, and most schools require that candidates complete their degrees within seven years. Occasionally, a university grants a student an extension due to extraordinary circumstances. As a doctoral program, the degree itself demands more than the accumulation of credits. Students must also pass their comprehensive exams, complete all in-person requirements, successfully defend their dissertations, and demonstrate the ability to contribute new knowledge to the field.

Common Courses

Although the specific courses in a doctoral program may differ depending on the school chosen, the following classes represent a sample curriculum. These courses help students gain skills in personnel management, grant management, marketing, and human resource leadership.


Students examine the dilemmas and issues that leaders face from an ethical perspective. The course focuses on the concepts of values and culture using case studies, current research, and application. Students complete assignments that draw from scholarly sources and their own experiences.


In this fundamental course, students consider the role of nonprofit organizations in the larger realm of public, private, civic, and social life. From there, learners discuss what it means to lead a nonprofit organization that impacts and changes lives. Specific topics may include organizational governance, stakeholder relationships, and personnel management.


This course orients students to public and private grant funding. Learners consider the differences between institutional and individual philanthropy and how those differences affect fundraising. The course also helps students gain valuable grant writing skills and an understanding of how grant management processes typically work for private and public funders at all levels.


In this course, learners consider all the elements of creating and managing digital marketing campaigns. The course typically includes case studies on integrated marketing campaigns for public relations and organizational growth. Students use these studies to learn about the digital marketing toolbox and how to analyze marketing campaigns for a growing organization.


Students consider the labor market's changing nature, including legal, operational, and conceptual issues. The course content will center on the legal, economic, and ethical factors surrounding recruitment and retention. Students will also consider how to create and maximize employment strategies for long-term organizational benefits.

Other Requirements

In addition to coursework, online Ph.D. students in nonprofit management usually must complete additional requirements to graduate. These requirements may include a dissertation, residency, field experience, or a comprehensive exam. While the specifics vary from program to program, the list below provides a general idea of what prospective students can expect from their academic experiences.

Comprehensive Exam

A doctoral program usually includes a comprehensive exam students must pass prior to beginning their dissertation. This exam measures the student's knowledge of concepts in the field and mastery of the skills associated with doctoral-level study. At some schools, the exam counts for 1-3 credits, while at other schools, students simply must take it.

Research Courses

Before launching their dissertation phases, doctoral students usually complete a series of research courses. Typically, these courses include both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Programs may also require a course in statistics or field research. Doctoral students will use the research skills gained in this course sequence to complete their dissertation.


A dissertation requires fresh research with an eye toward advancing overall knowledge in the field. Nonprofit management students may conduct research on theories of management or social change, for example, or they could research applied theories of philanthropy or communication. A dissertation typically requires 15 graduate credits, but the exact number varies by school.

Skills and Competencies

Nonprofit executives who pursue a Ph.D. in nonprofit management online can expand their professional skill sets and industry knowledge. These skills can help leaders keep their organizations at the crest of the nonprofit community.

Grant Management

Once an organization has secured a grant, leaders must employ the necessary accounting, reporting, and program management skills to manage that grant in an ethical and productive way.


Nonprofit executives seek and gather financial support to cover their program and administrative expenses. Fundraising involves identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors at all levels of the giving pyramid.

Online Marketing

Online marketing means knowing how to communicate with donors, influencers, clients, and the public on the internet. This skill requires deep knowledge of writing, communication, public speaking, audiovisuals, and more.

Organizational Leadership

Organizational leadership requires a complex blend of subskills, such as leading people and challenging the status quo. Doctoral-level work in management focuses on many of these particular subskills.


A Ph.D. distinguishes itself by including a unique research component. Leaders with a doctorate in nonprofit management possess deep research and analysis skills that can apply within and outside the academy.

Operational Management

Operational management is an umbrella term that covers many professional skills, including conflict negotiation, decision-making, and team leadership. These skills help executives lead the day-to-day activities of their organizations.

Nonprofit Management Professional Organizations

Nonprofit managers can advance their careers, extend their networks, and expand their influence by joining one or more professional organizations. Membership in these organizations usually includes discounted rates at local, regional, or national conferences plus access to the latest research and publications in the field. Finding the right organization may take some trial and error, but the benefits of joining provide a good return on the time invested.

Once an executive has found a well-regarded organization that meets their professional interests, it is important to make the most of that membership. Attending conferences and reading journals can help executives stay current on topics in the field. Members who volunteer at events, serve on committees, publish in journals, or join boards usually get much more value from their involvement. Speaking at professional conferences and publishing new research or ideas can help nonprofit executives extend their influence within the community.

Christian Leadership Alliance

This coalition of faith-based organizations includes nearly 1,200 nonprofit organizations, churches, businesses, and educational institutions as members. The organization offers a conference along with a leadership training academy.

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

YPN serves more than 50,000 members in 42 cities. The organization offers local networking opportunities, a national conference, research, and educational opportunities. Professionals can become members of this national network for free.

National Council of Nonprofit Associations

American's largest nonprofit network, the Nonprofit Council maintains a list of 25,000 members. The council helps members connect with state and local resources plus get involved in policy advocacy on issues important to the nonprofit sector.

Council on Foundations

The Council on Foundations provides an array of resources to grantmaking personnel, public policy advocates, and nonprofit leaders. Members can register for conferences, enjoy reading publications, and join the career center.

Association of Fundraising Professionals

AFP provides networking and continuing education opportunities for nonprofit fundraising executives. This organization maintains local, national, and international networks to help maximize growth, learning, and connection opportunities for members.

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