Master of Arts in Nonprofit Leadership and Management

Department of Leadership Studies

Program of Study

This 36 unit degree presents an integrated course of study combining leadership theory and practice with proven management models, strategies and tools designed to produce thoughtful and effective nonprofit leaders. The program is designed for individuals who want to be part of an intentional learning community of practitioners and scholars in the nonprofit field. Students learn new ways of conceptualizing their work through their studies with noted faculty from the School of Leadership and Education Sciences as well as from prominent nonprofit practitioners who teach in the program.

All students in the Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program take nine required courses (27 units). Students also select nine units of elective coursework to their specific needs and learning objectives.  The nonprofit curriculum is focused on applied learning, which facilitates the transfer of knowledge from theory to practice. Most courses include applied projects in which students work independently or in teams to provide consulting services to nonprofits and foundations. These projects give students an opportunity to incorporate real-world expertise into their learning while building their professional networks. Examples of applied projects include organizational audits, governance documents, development plans, legislative campaigns, research-based programs and evaluation designs, and community engagement campaigns (among other products).  Examples of noteworthy applied projects can be accessed through our online library.

Student Learning Outcomes

The Student Learning Outcomes were developed during a multi-stage effort involving faculty, advisory board members, students and administrators that concluded on February 19, 2014. This work involved re-examining the goals of the program and mapping those against the curriculum.


Core Courses (27 units)

LEAD 500 Research, Design and Evaluation of Nonprofit Programs 4
LEAD 501 Nonprofit Sector:  Theory and Practice 3
LEAD 503 Nonprofit Finance 3
LEAD 505 Developing Human Capital 3
LEAD 506 Resource Development and Marketing 3
LEAD 507 Community Partnerships & Civic Engagement 3
LEAD 510 Board Development 2
LEAD 550 Integral Leadership Theory and Practice 3
LEAD 559 Leadership and Organizational Change 3

Please note: In rare instances where a student has a demonstrated competency in one of the core curriculum subjects the student may approach the program director and subsequently, the course professor, about opting out of that course. If the director and professor agree, the student may substitute elective units for those required courses. No other course substitutions will be granted.

Elective Courses (9 units)

Choose 9 or more units from the following:

LEAD 504 Human Relations for Leaders 1
LEAD 508 Grant Making for the Greater Good 2
LEAD 509 Legal Issues, Human Resources and Risk Management 2
LEAD 511 Strategic Planning and Positioning 2
LEAD 512 Beyond Collaboration 1
LEAD 513 Advocacy Skills and Strategies 2
LEAD 514 Public Speaking 1
LEAD 515 Social Entrepreneurship – Innovations in Creating Social Value 2 or 3
LEAD 517 Capital and Endowment Campaign Planning 2
LEAD 518 Nonprofits and Civil Society in Guatemala 2
LEAD 519I Understanding Bi-National Nonprofits In the US-MEX Border Region 2
LEAD 555 Leadership and Ethics 3
LEAD 579 Volunteer Engagement 1
LEAD 579 Human Rights Advocacy and International NGOs 2 or 3

Other electives may be added.

Students enrolled in the MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management are eligible to enroll in courses at the Franciscan School of Theology. These courses would count as elective units. The mission of the FST is to prepare candidates for professional ministry in the Roman Catholic Church, for careers in theological education and provide opportunities for enhancing knowledge of the Christian faith and the practice of Ministry.

International Requirement

At SOLES, all masters and doctoral students participate in an international experience designed to support the growth of cultural competency. Our goal is to inform best practices in working with culturally diverse populations locally, nationally and globally.  International experiences are approved by each student's faculty advisor and can be credit based or non-credit based activities.

Exit Requirement

The majority of the courses offered in this program will contain an applied consulting project, completed on behalf of a nonprofit organization. A student may not undertake more than 50% of his or her applied projects with a single nonprofit client.

The terminal project for this degree is a portfolio of demonstrated competencies which will be evidenced by a submission of no fewer than three applied projects with accompanying supporting documents. Each portfolio will be evaluated by a nonprofit program faculty member and an external executive level nonprofit practitioner.

Optional National Credential with the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA)

Students enrolled in USD’s MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program have an opportunity to obtain a national credential from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance (NLA), whose  mission “is to is to strengthen the social sector with a talented and prepared workforce” (Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, 2015). The University of San Diego has been a member of NLA since 1988 and is 1 of the 40 colleges and universities within the Alliance’s network.

The Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential is the only national nonprofit credential preparing undergraduate, graduate and professional students for careers in management within the nonprofit industry. A recent study conducted by LinkedIn, the world’s largest online professional network, found that CNP’s are seven times more likely to reach the level of director or a rise to a higher position in the nonprofit sector.

Students who successfully complete the NLA’s program are awarded the CNP credential and obtain access to the NLA’s network of nonprofit career resources, and the NLA Alumni Association with over 1000 members.

CNP training consists of 10 core competencies that organizations are seeking in candidates and are critical in establishing a long term career within the industry.

  1. Marketing, Communications and Public Relations
  2. Cultural Competency and Diversity
  3. Financial Resource Development and Management
  4. Foundations and Management of the Nonprofit Sector
  5. Governance, Leadership and Advocacy
  6. Legal and Ethical Decision Making
  7. Personal and Professional Development
  8. Program Development
  9. Future of the Nonprofit Sector


  • · Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree
  • · Completion of the USD's MA in Nonprofit Leadership and Management
  • · Registration in the NLA program  
  • · 300 Hours of verifiable work and/or volunteer experience at a nonprofit agency
  • · Attendance at an approved nonprofit conference
  • · Completion of a NLA webinar

For more information, on obtaining your CNP through NLA please contact:
Teresa VanHorn, MA, CNP, Director of Undergraduate Nonprofit Leadership Programs (619) 260-4760 or