Master of Nonprofit Leadership Program Details

Leadership for the Common Good

Nonprofit and grassroots organizations bring people together around common causes. They provide a venue for people to respond to problems by coming together out of mutual caring, empowering collective action and initiating activities to “pick up the pieces” of society’s ills. They also provide a forum for people to come together to create and share art, preserve a shared culture and history, sustain open spaces, advance a profession, and rally communities for change. If there is an unmet need in the community, nonprofits provide space for people to come together to address it; that is its promise.

PSU’s Master of Nonprofit Leadership (MNL) is for those who believe in the power of collective action for meaningful social change. Be a part of the next generation of nonprofit leaders who work for the common good.

MNL Program Snapshot

54 Credits | Full-Time or Part-Time

A Curriculum Where You Learn By Doing
In the MNL curriculum, we marry the best of theory and practice so that you gain critical insights into nonprofit leadership and management and the skills to affect meaningful change. Your coursework will focus on four core areas:

  1. Foundations of the Nonprofit Sector and Nonprofit Leadership: Understand the role of the nonprofit sector and how to lead nonprofit and grassroots organizations for today’s complex world.
  2. Fundamentals of Nonprofit Management: Develop critical skills to manage a nonprofit or grassroots organization effectively, including board governance, financial management, fundraising and organizational behavior.
  3. Analytic Skills: Learn and apply best practices for evidence-based decision-making.
  4. Advocacy, Policymaking and Community Change: Explore avenues for nonprofit and grassroots organizations to create lasting and meaningful community and social change.

Beyond these core areas, you will enhance your knowledge and skill set with elective courses of your choosing and a community-based capstone project.

Why did you choose the MNL program?

"I grew-up with a cousin who has intellectual disabilities and watched my aunt continually fight for his rights. This personal experience, as well as other volunteer opportunities that I have had through nonprofit organizations, made me want to re-enter the academic arena. This opportunity would allow me to learn how to be a better public servant, and learn basic fundamental public administration skills as well as, leadership skills to allow myself to grow into a useful and productive citizen to effect change through advocacy, policy change, and much more!"

Why does public service matter?

"Without public service we cannot effectively make change within the society that we live within. We need leaders and mentors to help shape our government, at; local, state and national levels. This is the only way that we can adequately serve our communities, and advocate for the needs of our people."

Chloé, 2020 MNL Alumna 

Why the Master of Nonprofit Leadership?

You’ll join a learning community of faculty and professionals who share your passion for leading meaningful social change and working for the common good.

Dedicated Faculty
PSU’s Department of Public Administration offers a faculty of dedicated professors and professional instructors who draw on the best of both theory and applied practice from the nonprofit and public sectors to help students lead for the common good.

Explore: Meet the Faculty

Hands-On Experience and Professional Connections
Portland State University’s motto is “Let knowledge serve the city.” The students and faculty in the MNL program are well positioned to meet that charge with a strong focus on community-engaged learning opportunities across the curriculum. In addition, PSU’s Nonprofit Institute harnesses the power of the university’s faculty and students to provide support for Oregon’s nonprofit sector.

Explore: Our Vision, Mission and Values
Explore: The Nonprofit Institute 

More Bang for Your Buck
PSU’s MNL offers you a first rate graduate education at a fair price. Based on 2018/2019 in-state tuition estimates, you will pay $414 per credit hour for your classes. If you are attending the program part-time (6 credits per quarter for 3 quarters), that comes to approximately $7,450 per year. If you are attending the program full-time (9 credits per quarter for 3 quarters), you’ll pay approximately $11,175 in tuition per year. That may seem like a lot, but other similar programs in the Portland area cost two or three times as much in tuition each year.

Explore: Tuition & Fees

A City and University Committed to the Common Good
If you are seeking to work for the common good, then Portland is the place for you. Boasting a vibrant nonprofit and grassroots community, the City of Portland is home to more nonprofit organizations per capita than just about any other city as well as to nationally recognized nonprofit and philanthropic innovators. Portland State University has also been recognized numerous times for its dedication to pursuing the common good.

MNL Program Overview

Your coursework will focus on four core areas of study, will be rounded out with electives, and will end in a capstone experience. Visit our Degree Information page for the full degree requirements.

1. Foundations of the Nonprofit Sector and Nonprofit Leadership (12 credits)
These courses will provide you with a solid foundation to understand the unique role the nonprofit sector plays in society and how nonprofits can lead social change in today’s world.

•  History and Foundations of the Nonprofit Sector: PA 521 (3 credits)
•  Leadership for the Nonprofit Sector: PA 528 (3 credits)
•  Administrative Ethics and Values: PA 513 (3 credits)
•  One of the following courses:

  • Culture, Values and Leadership: PA 547 (3 credits)
  • Cross-cultural Communication: PA 549 (3 credits)
  • Enhancing Diversity in the Workplace: PA 594 (3 credits)
  • Civil Rights for Public Managers: PA 593 (3 credits)
  • Diversity and Social Justice: SW 539 (3 credits)

2. Fundamentals of Nonprofit Management (12 credits)
These courses will give you the critical skills you need to manage a nonprofit or grassroots organization effectively.

•  Governance of Nonprofit Organizations: PA 522 (3 credits)
•  Administrative Theory and Behavior: PA 540 (3 credits)
•  Fundamentals of Fundraising: PA 526 (3 credits)
•  Financial Management of Nonprofit Organizations: PA 524 (3 credits)

3. Analytic Skills (9 credits)
In these courses, you will learn and apply best practices for data collection and analysis, applied research, and program evaluation.

•  Analytic Methods I: PA 551 (3 credits)
•  Analytic Methods II: PA 552 (3 credits)
•  Program Evaluation and Management: PA 555 (3 credits)

4. Advocacy, Policymaking and Community Change (6 credits)
The knowledge and skills you gain from these courses will help you find avenues for your nonprofit or grassroots organization to create meaningful social change.

•  Advocacy and Political Participation by Nonprofit Organizations: PA 538 (3 credits)
•  One of the following courses:

  • Creating Collaborative Communities: PA 543 (3 credits)
  • Civic Capacity: PA 519 (3 credits)
  • Public Policy Process: PA 533 (3 credits)
  • Administrative Law: PA 534 (3 credits), or Law, Politics and Society: PS 524 (4 credits)
  • Interest Groups: PS 517 (4 credits)
  • Political and Economic Decision-Making: PS559/USP 636 (4 credits)
  • Concepts of Community Development: USP 528/428 (4 credits)
  • Negotiation in the Public Sector: USP 584 (4 credits), or Negotiation: CR 515/415 (4 credits)
  • Dialogue Across Differences: CR 523/423 (4 credits)

In addition, you can round out your knowledge and skill set with electives you choose in consultation with your academic adviser and with a community-based capstone project:

Electives (9 credits)
Elective courses should be selected in consultation with your academic adviser, including those outside of the Department of Public Administration, but if you are interested in the following areas of nonprofit leadership and management, you may want to consider these options:


Finance and Fundraising

Leadership Development for Public Organizations: PA 517 (3)

Leading Public Organizations: PA 518 (3)

Foundations of Collaborative Governance: PA 575 (3)

Values-Based Management: PA 598 (3)

Grantwriting for Nonprofit Organizations: PA 525 (3)

Social Entrepreneurship: PA 541 (3)

Public Contract Management: PA 556 (3)

Advanced Fundraising: PA 581 (3)

Public Budgeting: PA 582 (3)

Organizational Change

International NGOs

New/Emerging Nonprofits: Development and Change: PA 527 (3)

Strategic Planning: PA 536 (3)

Organizational Development: PA 545 (3)

Global Leadership and Management: PA 514 (3)

Nonprofits on the World Stage: PA 523 (3)

Nonprofit Field Study in Oaxaca, Mexico: PA 529 (3-6)

Equity and Social Justice

HR Management

Social Justice Pedagogies: GRN 510 (3)

Power and Knowledge: GRN 515 (3)

Critical and Decolonizing Methodologies: GRN 520 (3)


Supervision in the Public Sector: PA 546 (3)

Managing Employee Performance in the Public Sector: PA 562 (3)

Human Resource Management in the Public Sector: PA 590 (3)

Employment Law and Policy: PA 591 (3)

Volunteerism and Volunteer Management: PA 592 (3)


The MNL Capstone (6 credits)
Your program of study will culminate in a community-based capstone project we refer to as an Organizational Experience (PA 509). This is an opportunity for you to solidify what you’ve learned throughout the program with a hands-on project aimed at helping a nonprofit or grassroots organization build its capacity.

Optional Certificates
You can also complement your MNL degree by adding an optional certificate to your program of study. Complementing your MNL degree with any of the following certificate specializations will add depth to your knowledge and skill set. Certificate credits can be applied to your MNL Electives. Please visit the links below for additional information and if this interests you, please discuss with your faculty advisor.

• Collaborative Governance Online Graduate Certificate
• Energy Policy and Management Graduate Certificate
• Sustainable Food Systems Graduate Certificate
• Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Certificate
• Gender, Race and Nations Graduate Certificate

MNL Competencies

  • Articulate and exemplify the ethics, values, responsibilities, obligations and social roles of a member of the nonprofit profession.
  • Identify and apply relevant theories and frameworks to the practice of nonprofit leadership, management and policy.  
  • Respond to and engage collaboratively with diverse local and global cultures and communities to address challenges in the public interest. 
  • Identify and engage with the key elements of the public policy process. 
  • Employ appropriate qualitative and quantitative techniques to investigate, monitor and manage resource use. 
  • Create and manage systems and processes to assess and improve organizational performance. 
  • Conceptualize, analyze, and develop creative and collaborative solutions to challenges in nonprofit leadership, management and policy. 
  • Assess challenges and explore solutions to advance cross-sectoral and inter-jurisdictional cooperation in nonprofit programs and services. 
  • Demonstrate verbal and written communication skills as a professional and through interpersonal interactions in groups and in society. ​​​​​​
  • Think critically and self-reflectively about emerging issues concerning nonprofit leadership, management and policy.