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MBAs and ethical careers in Australia

12 February 2020

The specific challenges of business in the corporate sector are reflected, and in many situations amplified, in the nonprofit world. Those with the ability to solve these challenges can do more than just a good job – they have the power to make a real difference and make a lasting impact in the non-profit sector. 

Non-profit organisations that set up to do social good face all of the same trials as corporates, whether they’re operating in the field of health, housing, domestic violence, education, or one of the numerous other non-profit arenas. Their challenges include attracting and retaining great staff, encouraging high performance, setting up and managing supply chain issues, fine-tuning  organisational design and behaviour, managing digital transformation, marketing and HR issues, and much more.

People participating in a charity fun-run.

Not only do they face these traditional business challenges, but they do it all in an environment of fewer resources, lower incomes, instability, and  constant demand from donors to provide sophisticated analyses of results.

Those who graduate with a Master of Business Administration degree have the ability to manage and solve these issues, and to be of true value to society. In fact, it is possible to argue that it is important for society that MBA graduates enter the non-profit sector. For those that answer the call and seek an ethically satisfying management career, the rewards can be enormous. 

Plus, the sector itself offers a broad array of career choice, experience, industry and organisational scale. From education to engineering, from multinational to fast-moving startups, from museums to medical research, and from fully digitised to people-driven, nonprofits offer as much variety as corporates.

Consider the diversity and range of nonprofits that operate in Australia alone. There are currently 57,417 charities, according to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

They include world-renowned brands such as Ronald McDonald House Charities, Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres; important cultural institutions such as the Australian Museum Trust and the State Library of NSW Foundation; and community bodies such as Wheelchair Sports NSW and The Literature Centre.

The MBA graduate’s point of view

One American MBA graduate who had spent several years in the non-profit environmental education field wrote a fascinating case study for the Huffpost, outlining the challenges in nonprofits as well as the immense satisfaction that comes from working in this field. 

Her insight included the fact that the analytical skills offered by an MBA are of great value in the non-profit space, as they allow graduates to deeply understand a specific problem, and to therefore come up with better and more effective solutions.

Then there’s the people management aspect, which revolves around learning to be an inspiring and effective boss, understanding group dynamics and knowing how to approach difficult conversations. The nature of non-profit is that a manager tends to be dealing with employees and volunteers who are extremely passionate about the organisation’s work. That passion can be a double-edged sword and requires careful management, particularly during times of change. This can be particularly challenging during times if a nonprofit is facing things like funding cuts or instability at a board level.  

Finally, she said, nonprofits need people who excel in business management. Hard skills such as accounting and financial analysis and an understanding of economics and business governance make the non-profit stronger, more sustainable and therefore better at doing the important work it has been set up to do. Such knowledge is also vital when making grant applications, applying for funding from government and non-government bodies.

Two corporate business women chatting while walking down some stairs.

Lessons for the corporate world

In a corporate environment that is somewhat characterised, in some industries at least, by Royal Commissions and a trust deficit, those with experience in the non-profit arena are likely to be highly valued.

The world of business, particularly as it faces challenges around data privacy, digital transformation and sustainability, has realised that trust is a vital element of success. Non-profits, however, have always had to operate in an environment of deep trust. There has been no other option.

That knowledge around how to build and maintain a culture of trust, how to design trust so deeply into an organisation that donors are willing to dip into their own pockets to fund a venture that offers no financial return, will become increasingly valuable in the corporate world. Already some organisations are developing trust-specific roles, such as Chief Ethics Officer, to ensure trust expectations are met.

Expectations in the nonprofit world are also changing. While donors don’t expect a financial return on investment, they increasingly expect reports clearly outlining the quantifiable results of their giving. Organisations that are able to provide such reports – and perhaps even to go above and beyond with real-time, automated updates or dashboards that donors can personalise to see the up-to-the-minute progress in the specific area of their interest – will naturally earn a greater slice of the donor and funding pie.

That same reporting technology can be used within the non-profit too, to better manage campaigns and projects. A good example of this is the work going on at The Kids’ Cancer Project, an Australian charity set up to support and fund childhood cancer research. 

At The Kids’ Cancer Project, a new partnership with data analytics business SAS has resulted in an entirely new level of real-time clarity around how fundraising campaigns are tracking, and what needs to be changed and fine-tuned along the way to further boost results. The first time they combined real-time data analysis with a specific fundraising campaign, the total funds raised leapt from $320,000 in the previous year to $470,000. 

Smart nonprofits need smart people. Those who fund non-profits, whether they’re individual donors, corporate donors or grants bodies, expect smart results. The MBA qualification is a perfect launching board for a manager looking to make a real difference whilst enjoying an ethical career path. 

As more MBA graduates manage people, projects and organisations in the non-profit space, the people who benefit will be those who need it the most.

Learn more about how an MBA with SCU Online can propel your career. Get in touch with an Enrolment Advisor on 1300 589 882.