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The Rise of the Nonprofit PM

Why are there so few Product Managers?

After spending (a bit too much) time researching, it's fair to say less than 10% of nonprofits have a "Product Manager."

Well sure, you say? That doesn't surprise you.

We typically see Product Management in tech, ecomm and internet focused companies - they often work to understand customer needs, develop new features, and manage the product life cycle.

Nonprofits don't have a "product" that needs managing after all. And, there are others in the organization that do the tasks of a PM - like Program Managers and Project Managers.

I think this is changing.

Nonprofits do have product and features to launch, users to engage, and 'markets' to understand, include, and grow. They have 'revenue' (sometimes this is grants or fundraising). There are OKRs, long term goals and visions, roadmaps to define, and backlogs to prioritize.

Nonprofit products, like educational programs and outreach services, for example, have goals.

  • There can be better education and more users impacted.
  • There is data that can be measured, benchmarked, shared and used to drive decisions.
  • There is research that can uncover how users are consuming services, and how lives are transformed.
  • There are stakeholders with different information and needs, strategy to build, and projects to prioritize.
  • There are milestones to hit, which help to meet fundraising goals and to get more grants ('revenue'), and new grand visions to map and strive for.
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Product Managers can solve these problems with new approaches. There should be a technology component somewhere, and engineers to work with (otherwise, perhaps the Program Manager is filling your need). You also need leaders that truly value this skill, and are willing to support and empower. Those are real, and significant, barriers to overcome.

But, more leaders are seeing this potential. And more product managers, from faster paced product driven organizations, are entering the nonprofit space. And they are bringing new disciplines, new definitions of 'product', and new ways of defining success.

Who's ready for this?