MBA or MPA: Marie DiZazzo Wilson

FLiP continues to examine why some readers decided to get an MBA rather than an MPA or another masters degree. For more information on the subject, please enjoy the all the interviews here!

Future Leaders in Philanthropy (FLiP): What experience did you have in philanthropy before you decided to go to graduate school?

Marie DiZazzo Wilson (MDW): Growing up, I was always involved with local organizations as a volunteer – from working the church’s annual “tag sale” to volunteering at local soup kitchens several times a year.  In high school and college I volunteered for mission-driven organizations – like recycling groups and participating in a monthly midnight run where we made hundreds of sandwiches on campus, took a bus into New York City and drove around town to hand out sandwiches and snacks to the homeless.  Professionally, I had worked for two small nonprofits for a total of about three years on every aspect of their fundraising – annual appeals, grant writing, event planning, and even donor acknowledgements.

FLiP: Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree?

MDW: After about two years of professional experience, I decided I wanted to pursue fundraising – and organizational management – for other nonprofits.  I spoke with several of my colleagues as well as volunteers who donated their time to  the organizations with which I was affiliated, and most suggested pursuing some type of advanced degree to gain more knowledge about the field and to make myself more “financially marketable.”

Why did you choose the program you ultimately attended?  Describe it for us.

I chose to pursue an MPA with a concentration in nonprofit management.  Overall, the program provided a broad background for someone to pursue a career in the public, nonprofit or private sectors.  It gave a good overview of how the three sectors interact with and influence one another.  Courses included general topics with a focus on these sectors, such as economics, statistics, and general management, as well as those such as law and public affairs, financial management for nonprofits, and a final capstone course.  There were also very specialized nonprofit courses like human and financial resources for philanthropy, ethics and values of philanthropy, nonprofit economy and public policy, human resource management in nonprofits, leadership and board development, fund development for nonprofits, proposal development and grant administration, etc.

FLiP: Did you consider choosing an MBA instead?

MDW: I briefly looked at a few MBA programs that had concentrations in nonprofit management.

FLiP: Why did you decide against them?

MDW: The MBA programs seemed to focus more on meeting stockholder expectations and the corporate “bottom line,” something that isn’t the same kind of focus at a nonprofit.  Additionally, I feared not having coursework in things very specific to nonprofits – like proposal development and grant administration – would put me at a disadvantage to fundraise for a nonprofit.

FLiP: How do you think your program is helping your career prospects?

MDW: I think the knowledge and experience gained not only from my degree program, but also from the internships I was able to pursue while attending have given me a great deal of marketable background that should positively  influence my future career prospects.

FLiP: What standardized test did you have to take for your program, if any?

MDW: The program required me to take the GREs for admittance (as did most of the masters programs I applied to)

FLiP: Did you attend part-time or full-time?

MDW: I attended full-time.

FLiP: How many schools/programs did you apply to?

MDW: Four (I think…I applied nearly 4 years ago now!)

FLiP: If not for pursuing your degree, what track would you have considered taking?

MDW: I likely would have sought employment with a different organization focusing on fundraising.  At the time, I was working for a very small nonprofit where there was no dedicated development staff or real fundraising plans.  I would have tried to gain some experience at a larger organization with a greater focus on fundraising.

FLiP: Did you obtain your current job because of your degree?  Was it through a school contact, or did the job require a graduate degree?

MDW: None of the above.  This job did not require an advanced degree.  I found the job on my own “job hunt” – nothing from the school I had attended because they were located in the Midwest (I’m now in Connecticut).

FLiP: What advice, if any, would you give to someone who was considering getting an MBA or MPA?

MDW: To really think about why you want to pursue the degree, what you want to get out of it, and really research the programs before making a decision.  There’s a big difference between what you’ll take out of an MBA program versus and MPA program – and that makes a difference in what skills you’ll be able to bring to the organizations you end up working for.

FLiP: Are you happy with your decision?

MDW: Absolutely.

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