If you are considering starting a business, one of the bits of advice you’ll often hear is to consider doing an MBA first. This can teach you a lot, give you a good chance to network, and also fill in any gaps between your own skills and the skills you need to start making money with your own enterprise.

However, what if your idea is not to start a money-making business, but to run a non-profit organisation geared towards making a difference?

Many of the skills you can learn by doing an MBA still apply when you are considering a nonprofit – after all you still need to think about many of the same things in terms of management and strategy, and even other things like marketing.

However, there is a study path that may be even better suited to your goals – an MPA or Masters in Public Administration.

What Is an MPA?

An MPA is a study path for postgraduate people whose interests lie in the public sector. It is geared towards people who want to work in local or national government at leadership levels, as well as in other public sector areas.

While your independent non-profit idea may not fit in to this sphere exactly, the point is that the MPA is more about learning how to manage things that effect change than to manage things that make money – and this is where it differs most from an MBA.

Like an MBA or other management oriented post graduate study paths, it consists of a number of modules, some of which are compulsory and some of which you can choose from a list of elective subjects, and at the end you will be required to do a dissertation on a topic you choose yourself based on what you have learned and the fields you are most interested in.

Study options for an MPA

You can study for an MPA while you are still working, with a view to applying it to your non-profit start up after you graduate, you can study full time, or you can do it while you are in the process of setting up your new organisation – there isn’t really a wrong time to do it!

If you choose a good university that offers distance learning, you can do the majority of your course online and will be assigned a tutor to help you – giving you a lot of flexibility as well as all the personal attention you need to do your best o the course.

The University of Birmingham has a good MPA program that can be done on an online learning basis, which could be a good choice given it was rated by The Times as the best UK university in 2014 and is a well regarded educational institution that will look good on your professional credentials.

Using what you have learned

As a course of study geared toward people who already have some professional experience, a lot of what you will be expected to do on your MPA course is to think about applying the theories and strategies you will study to real world situations.

You will come away with a rounded knowledge of management practices, governance and strategy that is highly relevant to non-profit sectors, and also with a better view of how public bodies you may need to work alongside in your enterprise operate.

It can be a good idea to have some thoughts on what you might like to do for your dissertation early on in the course, and to make sure it is driven towards what you would like to do after you graduate.

Since your goal is about working independently and managing your own operations, it is important to think in these terms throughout your course where other students might be more focussed on aspects of the course that will be useful in employment in the public sector at a senior level.

Getting started

If you have looked at all of this and decided that an MPA could be beneficial to you in making a real go of your not for profit business idea, then the next step is to plan where and when you are going to do it, and to look for a provider to go with.

If you do not have the prerequisites for the course, then you may also need to consider how you can bring yourself up to the level to be ready to do your MPA.

Even if it takes years to get there, you can do your studying alongside working on your start up, so there is no reason to be put off doing this course which can help you attain better long term success!

For people who want to start up in a non-profit field, an MPA can be a far better choice than an MBA to boost skills and expertise.

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