The traditional path to an MBA is well-trodden: three years experience in a corporate business and you’re ready to boost your business acumen or start a company of your own.
But the MBA is not just for executives or entrepreneurs—the degree can be a great career boost for those in the third sector as well.
Katie Mitchell (pictured) had a background in charity fundraising and had just started her own family when she got the opportunity to pursue an MBA at Aston Business School.
Despite coming from a non-traditional MBA background, she says there was little difference between her motivations to study and those of an entrepreneur or corporate worker.
“My background is in fundraising and I guess what you could most equate that with in the private sector is a sales background,” she notes.
"So, if you were a salesperson in the private sector you would want to understand more about, operationally, how a business runs and how the income you are generating is accounted for in terms of accountancy and finance.”
Ultimately, she says, this organisational understanding is a crucial skill that can be applied to not-for-profit work as well—and the electives she took also enhanced skills that could be applied to her charity work for John Taylor Hospice in Birmingham.
“In terms of the subject matter, the stuff I found most relatable was the work I did my dissertation in, which was marketing.
“This was really interesting because the fundraising sector has experienced its fair share of scandals over the past few years—so that subject matter was crucial, something that as a sector fundraising could apply and learn from and really make a change to address some of the things that have gone wrong,” she adds.
But it’s not only business skills that Katie has gained from the Aston Business School MBA. She says the program has helped her development her interpersonal skills both in and outside of the office.
“I found that there was a real focus on understanding you and your style as a manager and as a learner,” she explains. “I really found that the way I practice management, as well as my viewpoints, changed through the course, and I came to understand more about myself and how other people might see things.”
The MBA at Aston is among only 1% of business schools in the world to hold triple accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS), and the Association of MBAs (AMBA). Katie took the online course. Aston's full-time MBA has also been ranked in the top 40 MBA programs in Europe by QS.
Despite the top-class business environment, Katie says the program remained perfectly aligned with her goals with the third sector—and the variety of student backgrounds helped her feel accepted in the MBA community.
“Obviously the majority of people were working for big national companies,” Katie explains, “so there was a bias towards that, but people are just people whoever they work for!
"Everybody brought their own experience to the program, so it was quite interesting that it was such a varied group of people.”
Having taken the unconventional path to an MBA, would she recommend the program at Aston Business School to other third sector workers? Katie says that the broad spectrum of learning on the program would be a benefit to anyone looking to increase their knowledge of how a business operates.
“Certainly I’d recommend it to other fundraising professionals,” she says. “What it gave me was a really good insight into, and an opportunity to think about, how organisations work.
"I’d also recommend it to people who are thinking about what the next step in their career might be, people who are thinking ‘I need to do something next but I don’t quite know where’. Because the MBA is focused on you and learning about yourself, I think it really does help with that process.”