Why I Believe MBAs are Important in the Non-Profit Sector

Durham at night

Colin Allen is a graduate of Loughborough University, whose career in the non-profit sports sector spans 12 years. Currently working for TASS (Talented Athletes Scholarship Scheme), he speaks to TopMBA.com about his decision to undertake an MBA at Durham University Business School, how he is finding the course so far, and why he thinks MBAs are so beneficial in the non-profit sector.

Colin AllenWhat has been your career journey up to the MBA at Durham?

After graduating from Loughborough University with a BSc in Sports Technology in 2006, I started a role with UK Sport in the investment governance team. I oversaw a portfolio of 20 sports, managing the lottery funding that went out to the athletes in those sports. After four years I moved up to Newcastle-upon-Tyne to join TASS.

At TASS we support dual-career athletes, helping student athletes balance their education alongside their sports development. My role in TASS has evolved over the years but I’ve predominantly held project management roles as well as managing client relationships. I’m now focusing on more of an operational strategy role, developing a strategy for the scheme and then translating that into operational plans.

Why did you decide to undertake an MBA, and why did you choose the part-time course at Durham?

At TASS, we’ve been fortunate to receive government funding for the whole length of the scheme but we’re heavily reliant on government funding as we don’t have the commercial expertise to look at additional revenue streams. I’m keen to hone my skillset in that area to see if I can help us become more self-sufficient in case the worst happens and we lose that government funding.

Another reason I decided to undertake an MBA is I thought it might open doors into other sectors. I’m keen to potentially try something new in the future, so the MBA is a stepping stone. I’ve been in sport for the whole of my career so far and I felt the MBA would be a way to transition to a different role or different industry if the opportunity arose.

I wanted a course where I could have some physical contact time at the university and didn’t want to do a fully online course where I never got to meet my classmates. Learning from others on the cohort is one of the biggest highlights as there’s such a breadth of backgrounds and industries and levels of experience, and the value that they bring to my learning has been great.

For my future career, being able to talk to people from different industries helps to frame in my mind what kind of direction I might want to take.

What have been the pros and cons of studying while you’ve been working?

For me the biggest pro is being able to apply the learning straight away, taking the learning straight back to the office the following week. For example, I’ve been able to apply the marketing module with TASS already, presenting a report to my director and then starting to implement some of those suggestions and plans.

I’ve recently taken on more line management roles as well, so the leadership and management modules gave me a much better awareness of other people’s needs and how to adapt my leadership style to that.

However, time management becomes a challenge, fitting in the assignments and readings in the weekends has meant I’ve had to be very disciplined and sacrifice a bit of free time. That’s been the biggest con, but it was one I anticipated.

Coming from a primarily sports background, were there any topics you found particularly difficult?

The areas I have found the most challenging have been where case studies were in more traditional industries like engineering. For example, in the operations and technology module, a lot of the processes were manufacturing and developing a product, rather than services. My background had been more service-orientated so getting my head around those theories and applying them to my sector has been the biggest challenge.

Once I got my head around it, it helped me find inefficiencies in what we’ve done within TASS and I’ve been able to implement my learning to smooth some of them out.

Why do you think MBAs are valuable to someone like you who works in the non-profit sector?

I would say, and I’m probably stereotyping a little bit, that the non-profit sector at times is a bit lacking in commercial acumen, and there are some parts of the not-for-profit world which lack real leadership and business management expertise. So, I believe there’s a gap in some of these organisations.

Sport is a good example of this as many people within national governing bodies have fallen into them through a love of sport. They may have a bit of an understanding about how to manage and coach athletes but might not necessarily have the experience or the formal academic experience of what it means to be a leader in a business. I believe that’s a knack I can hopefully bring to the sector if I stay within it.

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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