Communications & Public Relations

What Is a Social and Community Service Manager?

What Is a Social and Community Service Manager?
Social and community service managers give voice to the concerns of at-risk communities. Image from Pexels
Ginny Bartolone profile
Ginny Bartolone January 31, 2022

Advocating for a community means you need to stay on top of your communication skills. But what type of master's program fits this demanding career?

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From fair wages to healthcare access, social and community services managers advocate for the foundational rights we benefit from today. This fulfilling career path places socially minded experts on the front lines of today’s most pressing cultural and societal issues.

Societal challenges make the headlines on a daily basis. Communities face prejudice, poverty, and other barriers to basic human needs. Trained community service managers lead nonprofits, work for the federal government, and manage social initiatives for private companies in their efforts to redress these issues.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of social and community manager positions will increase by 15 percent by 2030, a growth rate more than three times that of the job market as a whole. According to the BLS, most full-time community manager roles require a bachelor’s degree.

Some community management roles may require a master’s degree. Others may not but may benefit from the skill set and knowledge a master’s holder brings to the job. An advanced degree in a relevant field—such as strategic communiations—can help community managers develop specialized abilities that open new opportunities and draw higher salaries.

We’ll take a look at the common career path for a social and community manager and how this growingly popular master’s degree can make an impact on its direction. We’ll cover:

  • What is a social and community service manager?
  • Does a social and community service manager need a strategic communications master’s to succeed?
  • What is a master’s in strategic communications?
  • Top strategic communications master’s programs
  • Online/hybrid options

What is a social and community service manager?

As the name suggests, a social and community service manager works to spearhead the social mission of a non-profit, government office, or social outreach department of a corporation.

These professionals give voice to the concerns of at-risk communities. They ensure every member of society has access to social services, education, fair labor, housing, and food. In some cases, social managers focus on a specific cause such as hunger, education, or racial justice, or on a specific community, such as immigrants, children, or the elderly.

Depending on the structure of the company, community manager work may take on everything from managing or training employees to lobbying Congress to pass social policy bills. These managers may have a hand in digital marketing, social media, and brand awareness, as well as building an online community. Overall, the position requires keen communication skills, managerial work experience, and enthusiastic dedication to their cause.

What does a social and community manager do?

Acting at a managerial level, a social and community service oversees a variety of responsibilities and reports back to top directors and stakeholders. Community manager job descriptions include tasks such as:

  • Supervising and measuring the impact of social services delivered to the community
  • Preparing and managing budgets for the fundraising team
  • Managing administrative teams
  • Hiring, training, and evaluating staff or volunteers
  • Collaborating with the marketing team and public relations department to assist in the marketing strategy
  • Acting as a mediator between the public and government offices for social needs

Where do social and community service managers work?

You’ll primarily find social and community service manager positions at nonprofits and foundations across the country. Positions are typically full-time in an office with a portion of the job spent meeting with state or federal officials or within community centers themselves.

Large companies, such as Disney or Coca-Cola, may have community outreach departments or foundations. These departments may offer volunteer opportunities, grants, and education programs targeted to specific communities. Community managers at for-profit businesses may have a hand in everything from administrative management to fundraising and managing marketing campaigns.

How much do they earn?

The BLS states that social and community service managers make an average of $69,600 a year. U.S. News & World Report reports that the top 25 percent of professionals make over $90,000 with potential growth of over $20,000 in promotions over 10 years of work experience.

As is the case with most careers, salaries range depending on your local cost of living, the size of the organization, and your level of responsibility. Titles themselves may vary as well, including everything from community manager to community impact manager to manager of community affairs.

Does a social and community service manager need a strategic communications master’s to succeed?

Across the board, most entry and mid-level social workers need a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree in social work or a related field. This may also include a bachelor’s of social work, public policy, nonprofit administration, or public health.

However, fighting for a cause and speaking for a community requires a high level of adaptability. Professionals must stay up-to-date with the latest research on effective communication and how to reach the right audience—whether that be members of the community or members of Congress. This is no small feat in such a fast-paced career path.

A master’s in strategic communications provides a deep dive into communication tactics for everyone from social media managers to community service leaders. Programs typically offer concentrations or electives in social topics that give professionals the tools they need to advocate and lead with expertise.

What is a master’s in strategic communications?

A master’s in strategic communications explores one of the most universal challenges across industries today: how to properly craft a message and ensure it reaches the right audience. The field combines public relations, marketing, operations, writing, and social advocacy to train effective, ethical, and inspiring communicators. Schools deliver this program in both in-person and online formats and typically target mid-career professionals with several years of experience.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

The degree requires between 10 and 24 months of full or part-time coursework. Some programs offer a final capstone or immersion experience. Part-time programs are typically designed to accommodate students who wish to continue working full-time while they pursue their degrees.

Admission requirements and prerequisites

Prospective students must hold a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university to apply. Competitive programs like Columbia University also recommend having at least two years in a communications role for its traditional Master of Science or six years for its Executive Master of Science.

Students from various undergraduate backgrounds attend strategic communications graduate programs. Applicants submit personal statement and letters of recommendation that convey their skills and commitment to the program. Some programs—Butler University, for example—also require competitive GRE or GMAT scores for admission.

Curriculum

Most strategic communications programs start with a series of foundational classes. Courses define strategic communications , explore how to measure the success of a campaign, and enumerate the leadership soft skills a strong communicator needs.

The programs also enable students to explore various forms of modern communication, including social media platforms and online graphic design.

Elective courses—which can make up as much as half of a student’s schedule—provide critical opportunities. First, students can specialize in their preferred area. A social and community service manager, for example, might opt for policy and advocacy topics. Electives also allow students to build connections with professors who work in their field and represent a range of viewpoints and experiences.

Elective topics may include crisis communication, speechwriting, political advertising, analytics and marketing metrics, social networks, and global communications.

Specialization

American University offers one of the most socially focused master’s in strategic communications. In addition to its central location in D.C., it encourages students to choose a concentration—many of which pertain to social advocacy, politics, and diversity.

But you don’t need a name specialization to customize your degree. Between electives, the final project, and mentorships with professors, aspiring social service managers can home in on the topics that benefit them most. Butler University notes that its graduates have gone onto roles as social and community service managers as well as public relations and fundraising managers.

Top strategic communications master’s programs

You’ll find excellent graduate programs in strategic communications at all of the following schools.

American University

Located in the heart of D.C., this in-person and online master’s program provides access to some of the top PR professionals, journalists, politicians, and social advocates in the country. Full-time students complete the programs in just 10 months while a part-time track allows up to two years. College Magazine named American as its third-best PR school in the country.

Butler University

Butler offers both a master’s degree and a certificate in strategic communications. The program’s interdisciplinary focus covers foundational topics in the background, data, and ethics of strategic communication as well as electives like social media strategy, strategic storytelling for storytelling, and health and risk communication. As we noted above, 2020 graduates went on to work as social and community services managers with an average salary of about $69,000. Butler launched its first online master’s cohort in the spring of 2022.

Columbia University

This Ivy League option offers part-time, full-time, and executive master’s programs in strategic communication. Columbia offers professional-level internship experiences with organizations like the United Nations, Workforce Opportunity Services, and a long list of top for-profit names. The program also offers access to the Student Career Design lab, which transitions students from the classroom to their next desired career step.

Online/hybrid options

The rise of online and hybrid master’s programs means that you don’t need to relocate to your favorite school to access the program. American University, Butler University, and many other top strategic communications programs—such as the University of Oregon or Fordham University—offer online or hybrid options.

You can typically complete all, or nearly all, requirements for the degree online. Some programs require students to visit campus for a week-long immersion or complete in-person internships with a local company.

Perhaps most importantly, the format of online strategic communication programs works with busy professionals—a critical feature for busy career social and community managers. Customizing your schedule and coursework is not only possible with this degree, but encouraged.

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