(Image: Nicolas Menijes)
Program managers are the heart of any nonprofit’s impact, powering on-the-ground work that makes a difference in people’s lives. Naturally, they are very much in demand.
If you’re new to the sector, or considering a change in your role, you’ve probably seen a number of listings that concern program management. But what exactly does a program manager do?
The short answer: Nonprofit program managers do a lot. So how can you tell if program management is a good fit for your skills?
As the head of a particular project or initiative, this multifaceted role revolves around planning, implementation, oversight, and evaluation. The project or initiatives can vary widely, depending on the organization's mission; regardless, program managers are responsible for ensuring that it aligns with the nonprofit's objectives, makes a positive impact, and remains both relevant and sustainable.
Here are some core aspects of program management in nonprofits.
- Planning and strategy: Program managers play a central role in developing a program's objectives, strategies, and timelines. They are responsible for creating a roadmap that guides the program toward achieving its goals.
- Implementation: Once the program is planned, program managers oversee its execution. This includes managing resources, collaborating with teams, and ensuring that the program stays on track.
- Monitoring and evaluation: Program managers must continuously assess a program's progress and its impact on the community. They gather data, measure outcomes, and make necessary adjustments to improve the program's effectiveness.
- Stakeholder engagement: Building and maintaining relationships with various stakeholders, including beneficiaries, volunteers, and partners, is essential for the success of a program. Program managers often serve as the bridge between the nonprofit and these stakeholders.
- Resource management: Managing budgets, grants, and other resources to ensure that programs run efficiently and sustainably is a crucial responsibility. Program managers must be skilled at balancing financial stewardship with program impact.
A position in program management might be right for you if:
- You have passion for the mission. A strong belief in the nonprofit's mission is essential. Program managers must be dedicated to the cause they are working for, as this passion will drive their commitment to making an impact.
- You have a knack for organizing. Managing multiple tasks, deadlines, and resources is a daily demand in program management. Strong organizational skills are essential to ensure programs run smoothly.
- You are an effective communicator. Communication is paramount when liaising with diverse stakeholders, from frontline workers to beneficiaries to nonprofit leaders. Program managers should be adept at conveying the program's goals, results, and impact to different audiences.
- You excel at problem-solving. Nonprofit programs often face complex challenges. The ability to identify obstacles, recognize opportunities, develop solutions, and adapt to changing circumstances is crucial.
- You have a collaborative nature. Program managers work with teams, partners, and beneficiaries. Being a team player and fostering positive relationships is essential for success.
- You understand the value of data. Monitoring and evaluation are integral to program management. A data-driven approach, including the ability to gather the right metrics, analyze outcomes, and make data-informed decisions, is highly beneficial.
- You are adaptable. Nonprofits often work in dynamic environments, facing emergent challenges and shifting demands. Program managers must be flexible and open to adapting their strategies to meet evolving needs.
As a critical and impactful role, program managers are always in demand in the nonprofit sector, across all cause areas. Statistical data on program manager salaries varies according to the source, but program manager listings on Work for Good that include a salary, at the time that this article was published, range from $45,000 to $100,000-plus, depending – of course – on the level of responsibility and expertise involved.
Currently, the Work for Good job board lists dozens of positions in program and project management, with job titles such as:
- Program Director, Home Match
- Manager, Educational Policy
- Program Manager of Transportation Justice
- Artists at Risk Connection Regional Representative
- Assistant Health Center Manager
- Sectoral Training Manager
With a high level of demand, great potential for advancement, and a role directing on-the-ground impact, program management has great potential for a rewarding, lifelong career in nonprofits.
Feeling informed, inspired, and empowered? Now's the perfect time to search for your next job! Or set up a job alert, and bring the search to you.
Marc Schultz is communications editor at Work for Good.