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Do you need to get a philanthropic-focused MBA to get a CSR job?

I am very interested in pursuing CSR, non-profit work, social entrepreneurship, etc. as a career after college. My university offers a 5-year Bachelors + MBA program which would mean less time and money but they only offer focuses in the big business areas (EX: marketing, management, finance, etc.) Should I choose this option or move to a 2-year MBA program that is more focused for my career goals? csr mba business nonprofit philanthropy

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Teryll’s Answer

I agree with the previous advice given. I think career experience is more valuable than a MBA, at least at first. I work on a CSR Team for a large technology company and most of our team started in the nonprofit sector and made the transition to corporate CSR.

Teryll recommends the following next steps:

I would recommend attending events that allow you to learn how nonprofits and companies are collaborating.
A few places to go for more information on the field include: LinkedIn, Benevity, and The Conference Board CSR Council https://www.conference-board.org/councils/corporate-social-responsibility
Thank you so much for your insight, especially as someone working in the field. The information that many people start in nonprofits and transition definitely helps me understand the path I may take after graduation. Isabella B.
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Syed’s Answer

Hi Isabella,

Typically, it's best to pursue an MBA after 5-7 years of work experience. That way you get the most value out of the network and professional opportunities on the other side.

You can get a CSR job coming out of undergrad with the right network and set of skills/experiences. Some national organizations like Net Impact offer pipelines to CSR jobs right out of undergrad. Here's an article from their blog: https://www.netimpact.org/blog/four-tips-for-starting-a-career-in-csr

Good luck!

Syed recommends the following next steps:

Reach out to CSR professionals on LinkedIn - get their insider advice on how to get into the field
Search on Indeed, Glassdoor and Monster for entry-level CSR roles (that do not require and MBA or Master's)
Apply for internships and full time jobs (depending on where you are in your college career)
Use your resume to showcase why you belong in CSR!
Syed, Thank you so much for your insight and for the information on Net Impact - what a wonderful resource! Not to mention your next steps are great places for me to start growing and working right away. I greatly appreciate it. Best, Isabella. Isabella B.
Hi Isabella, I was a member of Net Impact Undergrad for a couple years back in school. You can check here to see if your university has a chapter: https://www.netimpact.org/chapters/search?action If not, you can always start your own chapter! They also have a major Net Impact Conference every year as well as other competitions/challenges on campuses nationwide. Here's some further info they have on CSR: https://www.netimpact.org/for-profit-impact Syed Ferdous BACKER
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Darren’s Answer

Some career experience is likely more important first out of school vs. going straight into an MBA. That way, you will be able to determine what type of CSR work you are best suited and most motivated to pursue. Whether that be public or private sector, government, charity or private foundation, the experience will be better as you'll then have more of a basis to pull from if/when you decide on an MBA.

Also, traditional MBAs are still very useful depending on what type of CSR you pursue. Certainly in the private sector, you will find many CSR leaders who began their careers in other areas and then made a switch later on in their careers.
Thank you so much for the insight! I never considered using time between degrees to determine what MBA concentration I may be most interested in, I think it's extremely wise. I greatly appreciate your response. Best, Isabella. Isabella B.
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Shiela Marie’s Answer

Hi Isabella, thanks for the great question. Having an MBA experience is valuable and so is being able to learn through professional experience. Speaking from my personal experience, I have learned best from being involved in different industries and managing projects before moving into a full-time CSR job. It is always best to bring all the skills you've learned to your current job. This article lists some of the key skills needed to succeed in a CSR role https://www.netimpact.org/blog/fact-or-fallacy-every-csr-pro-needs-an-mba and will be worth reading. All the best!
Shiela, thank you so much for your insight I greatly appreciate it. The article you shared was extremely informative and perfectly connected to my question - thanks for sharing. Isabella B.
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Ellie’s Answer

Hi Isabella!

I resonate with your question as not too long ago I was in your shoes. The advice provided by those above is extremely valuable and their career paths mirror the journeys of many in the CSR field. Since full time CSR roles are relatively new compared to other professions, many CSR professionals found their way to this path after having established themselves in other fields prior.

As someone that, similar to you, was aware of the variety of opportunities that are now available in the CSR field while still in school, I was interested in jumping into the field directly from college rather than cutting my teeth somewhere else first. Happy to report that, while it is challenging, it is possible! While I also considered an MBA as a way to get an edge over more experienced applicants, I was given advice similar to that above that an MBA is most useful after a few years experience.

My recommendation is to try to get some internships while you're in school in both the non-profit and corporate sectors (a CSR professional needs to understand both) and try to volunteer with non-profits that have a strong corporate engagement model. This will be much more valuable than an MBA straight out of undergrad and you can always go back to school later!
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Kierstan’s Answer

This really is a great question and the answers above are all excellent. I think the great thing to know is that you have so many options and there is no path that is right or wrong!

I'll add my two-cents because my experience is a little different.

I completed my undergrad in Chemistry and went on to work in the field for about a year. I had realized that, while I hugely value science, it wasn't quite right for me, professionally. I went back to school for my MBA after that with an emphasis in data analytics. From there, I went to work with the risk department at my current company as an analyst and that eventually lead to working into a position in sustainability.

My MBA really gave me a lot of the skills that have made me successful at my job and actually made it possible for me to move into this position. I think that an MBA gives you a unique ability to evaluate various options, look at projects and programs with a strategic and business-balanced mindset, and communicate with stakeholders outside of the CSR and sustainability world. I definitely believe you can be just as successful without it, but I do think an MBA can be an asset that sets you apart from other candidates and can help you bridge some important gaps in the business world. I'm now leading my company's sustainability efforts and I truly think that they will be more effective because I can make a solid business case for why a focus on CSR is important.

All of that being said, I don't think you need to get a philanthropic-focused degree, and actually think it could be more helpful to get something that applies beyond the CSR world. I use a lot of strategy and project management skills and tools.
Kierstan, thank you so much for sharing your path with me! Your insight has helped me really understand the value of an MBA in the workplace, especially how an MBA outside of CSR can bring value to any position. Thank you again! Isabella B.
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Amy’s Answer

As someone who worked in nonprofit administration and fundraising for ten years and now has an MBA, I know that business experience is extremely valuable. An MBA will give you knowledge and skillsets that are currently lacking in the nonprofit sector. There is a lot of value in "traditional" marketing, communications, finance, strategy, etc. concepts for nonprofit professionals and organizations. As an MBA, you would bring a lot of value to a nonprofit organization. And if you wait to do your MBA later, it will likely be at a significantly higher cost than if you roped it into your bachelor's degree. That said, you do not need an MBA to make a significant impact in the nonprofit sector. Passion, initiative, and work experience will take you as far as you'd like to go.

Keep in mind that the nonprofit sector is not the only place to pursue a career in social responsibility. All major corporations are (or will be) pursuing some form of CSR because it is increasingly demanded by the marketplace. Many companies are doing it right. Take a look on corporate websites to find their social impact annual report or similar publication, and reach out to ask for informational interviews to gauge the authenticity of those reports.
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Bree’s Answer

Similar to Kelly, I agree with all of the advice below and would recommend work experience over an MBA. My journey to CSR was a bit different. I was a nonprofit tax attorney, but worked a bit with clients in the CSR space with legal questions and contract drafting. After a number of years, I realized that my passion was to work on CSR and employee engagement, so it took me about a year to find a position that was a good fit, but I have been so happy with my new career path. I use my legal background on a daily basis, but the CSR space is so much more rewarding. I would really recommend, as others have suggested, networking now with people in these areas. As other CSR professionals for an informational interview so that you can learn more about the space and their company - it's a great way to get to know the area and the company to ensure it's exactly what you want to do.
Bree, thank you for your insight! I especially value the advice to pursue informational interviews as I think that would be a great way to learn more and begin building a network of contacts in the field. Thanks for helping me on this journey. Isabella B.
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Mylayna’s Answer

This is a good question. Many people think that an MBA is automatically required to work in corporate America. Surprisingly, an MBA is not required. Most people who work in CSR here at AT&T bring a variety of education and real-world experience to our work. The road I took to get to CSR is a little different. I’m a lawyer by trade, and it was through my previous job as an attorney for a local municipality (city) that I first worked with the AT&T External Affairs team on an AT&T network issue related to U-Verse. About a year later, I was approached by the company to see if I was interested in working on the External Affairs team. I was a great candidate for the job due to the many relationships I had in local and state government which would help when dealing with AT&T issues with government officials. After working in that department for a few years, I became very familiar with the CSR work the company was doing. When an opportunity became available, I interviewed and was selected to join this great team.
Mylayna, thank you for sharing your personal story. What I'm learning from your path and the experiences of others who've answered this question is that developing relationships and skills in the workplace will help me naturally find my path in CSR without the requirement of an MBA. I greatly appreciate your insight! Isabella B.
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Andrew’s Answer

Hi Isabella,

Thank you for that great question! I was in a similar situation to you after college, as I wanted to pursue a career in CSR/social impact. I'm currently on an internship at PagerDuty's social impact team, but worked in nonprofits and philanthropies previously. A lot of companies offer internship programs and I'm currently on an internship at PagerDuty's social impact team. I agree with the previous answers and their advice on getting informational interviews with folks in the field and job experience before pursuing an MBA.

If your college offers courses about nonprofit management, corporate social responsibility, etc, I would encourage you to take those, so you can learn about the systemic issues and context around the field. I would also recommend talking to your professors and expressing your interest in the field and willingness to learn more, and they might be able to connect you to their colleagues in the nonprofit/CSR space.

Overall, it's a great field to be in, a lot of companies are focusing more on giving back to the communities they work in, with employee time (volunteering), product support, and funds (grants/giving campaigns). I hope this helps and best of luck in your career!

Andrew recommends the following next steps:

Reach out to professors and ask them for introductions to nonprofit/CSR professionals in their network
Take classes based on your specific fields of interest (e.g. sustainability, CSR, nonprofit management)
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Smitha’s Answer

I echo everyone else's answers here... experience definitely gets you in a better place to work within the CSR field. I can share my own journey in CSR if that's helpful.

Fresh off college, I was in Public Relations and worked for just about 2 years in communications/PR. I moved cities, and tried to find any work possible. I stumbled upon a temp/part-time opportunity that allowed me to work on a big financial company's volunteer month of service. I was actually filling in for the CSR manager that took some time off during this peak season of volunteering at the company. I was literally thrown into all the different aspects of managing the employee volunteering program on the very first day I started work, but I was lucky to have an excellent mentor and guide to help me through this process. I quickly made connections within those two weeks I worked there. After a few months, they called me back and wanted me to work on a few more projects. Slowly, I started getting more such projects, and before you know it, I had learnt so much on the job and through networking. Today, I'm an experienced, passionate CSR professional in the private sector working for a large pharmaceutical manufacturing company helping make important, meaningful community connections for the company and our employees.

My advice to you is: Get a feel for the CSR work through smaller gigs and internships. If that's something you end up being passionate about, go for it all the way and even gain from an MBA education to help you grow in this career track.
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Kelly’s Answer

All of this advice is pretty spot on, so I am just here to add my own personal experience of what brought me to CSR. I left college with a Bachelors degree and went straight into the nonprofit field working for causes that were of interest to me - specifically education and financial services/literacy. I spent five years with these nonprofits and utilized that time to network with numerous companies who I was attracted to as it relates to their giving and impact on the local community. The relationships I built while working in nonprofit brought me to my current role which is at a large Agriculture company in community relations. I absolutely love my job and a lot of that has to do that the values of the company I work for match my values.

I am now 5+ years out of my bachelors degree and I am just starting to look into a MBA program. As much as I wanted to go straight into a graduate program, I am very happy to have the work experience that I have now to build upon with further education.

Hope this provides insight to how some CSR professionals fall into the work, and how you can continue education down the road.
Kelly, thank you so much for this - I greatly appreciate your personal insight as someone who has actually gone through the journey that I hope to embark on! This is amazingly helpful feedback that I wouldn't be able to get anywhere else, thank you. Isabella B.
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