Choosing a Career in Nonprofits
Nonprofit careers are highly varied. Nonprofits vary in their mission, culture, and size. About 75% of nonprofits have budgets of less than $1 million, but nonprofits can also be very large, employing thousands of people. Generally, in smaller organizations, the jobs are broader, containing a variety of different roles and duties. In larger organizations, roles may be more specialized. In smaller organizations, it is more difficult to provide opportunities for advancement, so it is common for staff members to leave and go to a larger organization in order to move up in responsibilities and pay.
The following are general national resources about careers. You may find information that will help you determine if the nonprofit sector is right for you.
Enter "nonprofit" into the Quick Search area to find information on some of the major nonprofit careers. You can also look under Human Services, if that is an area of interest. This site provides information on the skills needed and major activities of various careers.
CareerOneStop (U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education)
Enter "nonprofit" into the search by occupations area. This site provides a lot of information on the demand within a field, typical educational backgrounds, pay levels, and skills needed, along with information about the skills and education needed to attain those jobs.
Preparing for a Nonprofit Career
If you are thinking about a career switch into nonprofit management, this article offers a wealth of information and perhaps a red flag on the difficulties of leadership roles in the sector.
Depending on where you are in your job search, you may want to start at a broad level and find basic tools and checklists. This website covers a variety of job-seeking topics as well as suggestions and very specific checklists covering anything from resume templates to career research resources:
It is important that your salary needs and expectations are aligned with your field. You can find free information on nonprofit salaries and benefits on the free MissionWorks nonprofit salary data website. This information is from nonprofits in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and part of New York, but it will be generally applicable in other urban locations. MissionWorks also publishes a report called Valuing our Nonprofit Workforce. This salary information represents 171 types of positions from 342 organizations, reporting on nearly 35,000 individual salaries.
Many salaries in the education, higher education, health care, and philanthropic subsectors of nonprofit work are higher than are business salaries, especially for smaller businesses. However, salary levels in other parts of the nonprofit sector, like the arts, youth development, environment, or human services, may be lower than business salaries for comparable positions.
Because the nonprofit sector is not designed to generate high profits or margins, the opportunities to earn very high salaries are rare. Most people who make a career in nonprofit work are happy to trade off that rare chance to become rich for a life doing work that is meaningful and aligned with their values. It is unlikely that you will be satisfied in a nonprofit career if you feel like your work is a "sacrifice." So knowing your values and what is most important to you is key to selecting a nonprofit career.
You can find colleges with degrees focusing on the nonprofit sector and public administration on these websites:
- Top Nonprofits - Nonprofit Degree Programs
- US News and World Report Best Nonprofit Degree Programs
- College Choice - Best Nonprofit Degree Programs
In Washington State, there are several academic programs that prepare people for leadership roles in the nonprofit sector. Some, like at Seattle University, are stand-alone programs. Others are offerings within business schools, and still other academic options are provided within public administration programs, like at the University of Washington.
There are also related programs at Highline Community College, Antioch University, Bellevue College, and Northeastern University. Check out options in the "Educational Programs & Resource Centers" category on our Consultants & Other Nonprofit Specialists page.Training and Professional Development
Are you missing certain skills or experience that you feel are holding you back in advancement in your career?
Classes are also available for your development. Once you determine what skills you are missing, try to find courses that will add to your experience.
Applying for a Nonprofit Job
CommonGood Careers' Knowledge Center offers a rich collection of resources for finding and applying for jobs, both for nonprofit veterans or people looking to transition into the nonprofit sector.
This website helps with anything from resumes and cover letters to specific steps for moving your career forward. Of particular note here are the discussions on Advancing Your Career.
Nonprofit jobs are listed on these national job boards.
Also, explore these local and regional job boards:
- National Council of Nonprofits - select a location and search for a job in the nonprofit sector
- AFP Advancement Northwest - Career Center
- Leadership Tomorrow - Job & Volunteer Opportunities
- Mac's List
- Nonprofit Networking Group listserv
- Philanthropy Northwest - Job Bank
- Seattle University - NPL Connects
Most colleges and universities have open career center websites filled with career guidance and advice, job postings, career research ideas, and templates for resumes and cover letters. Use these types of sites to see what skills and experience employers and nonprofits are looking for. You can use some of this specific material, as well as learn relevant information that can be used later in interviews as well.
- University of Washington Career Guide
- Seattle University Career Center
- Center for Career Connections and the Women's Center at Bellevue College