Finding a Job

Everything You Need To Know About Working for a Nonprofit

February 21, 2021

When looking for a job, you might consider a variety of factors, including potential salary, job responsibilities, expected work hours and commute. The mission and structure of the organization might also be a consideration. Nonprofit organizations have unique structures and purposes when compared to for-profit corporations. In this article, we explore what it’s like to work for a nonprofit—including the work experience and essential traits for the workers to have—and explore some common nonprofit jobs.

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What is a nonprofit?

A nonprofit is a tax-exempt organization that funnels any excess revenue towards advancing its organization’s mission, as opposed to using it to supplement employee or leader salaries via bonuses, as for-profit organizations might. Nonprofit organizations span educational, religious, research and other sectors and seek to support a social cause.

They are run by a combination of paid employees and volunteers and sometimes model their business or organizational structure after for-profit companies, even though generating revenue is not their focus. They vary significantly in size and structure and reflect an expansive range of social causes.

Common sectors in the nonprofit industry

Although nonprofit organizations span all industries, here are the industries with the most nonprofit organizations:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Religious organizations
  • Social and legal services

Education

Many people in the education nonprofit sector work in charter and religious schools as teachers, administrators or support staff. Regardless of the type of school, educators are responsible for teaching academic content and supporting students’ social and emotional development.

Others work in after-school programming where they are responsible either for coordinating the program logistics or working with students in arts integration, academic enrichment or sports. Fundraising and coordinating with school boards or donors are also critical job responsibilities in the nonprofit sector.

Healthcare

Individuals working for a healthcare nonprofit provide direct medical services as well as preventative and psycho-educational support to patients and entire communities. This could include conducting screenings and basic health assessments or providing more extensive, ongoing care.

It might also require coordinating care for uninsured individuals by connecting them to providers with more flexible patient acceptance policies. Advocating for health resources in at-risk communities often involves engaging with elected officials and government agencies through fundraising and grant writing.

Religious organizations

Religious nonprofit organizations include houses of worship, faith-based educational institutions and faith-based community organizations. Professionals working in a house of worship may be responsible for recruiting members, facilitating the worship experience, leading the choir or coordinating outreach services for the organization’s members.

Those working in a faith-based educational institution may be responsible for coordinating admissions and enrollment, doing outreach to advertise the school to the community, teaching students or securing fundraising. Individuals working at a faith-based community organization may be responsible for leading or coordinating programming or programming and fundraising functions similar to a school.

Social and legal services

Individuals working for a social or legal services nonprofit perform a wide range of prevention and intervention job functions. This can include preventative services such as psycho-education, advocacy for community resources, provision of food and other basic needs or referrals to preventative medical care.

Intervention job functions could include the mental and physical health response to a crisis, ongoing counseling or mental health treatment, coordination of care following a child abuse or neglect finding or legal services for individuals involved with the justice system.

How to start working for a nonprofit

In addition to the unique characteristics of the work itself, the process for applying to and being hired by a nonprofit is also different than a for-profit organization. There are three key steps you can take when applying for a nonprofit job:

1. Customize your resume and cover letter

A defining feature of nonprofit organizations is their mission-driven orientation and stated objective to positively impact society. In addition to the technical skills necessary to perform whatever job you apply for, you want to ensure that you convey your compassion and sincere interest in your work.

This will help you stand out among candidates who submit a generic resume that is not customized to the values-oriented nonprofit field. Highlighting specific skills that are most relevant to nonprofit work, such as flexibility and persistence, is also a good idea.

2. Search non-profit specific job boards

Charitable organizations or other advocacy groups that support social causes may list jobs on their websites. You can begin by narrowing the specific nonprofit sector or social issue you are interested in. Then, search the most common groups for that topic.

3. Gain exposure

Volunteering with a charity, attending a fundraiser or community event and networking with individuals working for nonprofits are all helpful strategies when applying for a nonprofit job. Through these exercises, you will expand your network, make personal connections with people in the industry and gain insight into the most critical skills for success. You can use this exposure to decide which skills and experiences you should highlight during your interview.

What to expect while working for a nonprofit

While individual organizations vary, the following is a list of things to expect while working for a nonprofit:

  • Value-driven employees
  • Hard work
  • Growth and development
  • Cross-functional collaboration

Value-driven employees

A cornerstone of nonprofit organizations is their mission to promote social welfare and improve the lives of individuals and communities they encounter. People are drawn to this profession because of a desire to serve, so they often attract value-driven employees. This may manifest in employees voluntarily working extra hours, seeking the common good over employee conveniences and remaining grounded in the organization’s mission and vision long-term.

Related: Core Values: Overview and Examples

Hard work

Accomplishing the goals that most nonprofit organizations identify requires tremendous work from individuals and the organization at large. Nonprofits often seek to address deeply entrenched systemic challenges that require navigating bureaucracy, raising funds and providing emotional support. This often requires a unique combination of technical and interpersonal skills and a firm commitment to the cause.

Related: Tips To Demonstrate Work Ethic

Growth and development

Because of their multi-faceted nature, nonprofit organizations provide tremendous opportunities for employee growth and development. This includes refining skills in policy and grant writing, fundraising, relationship building, project management and organizational development. It could also mean assuming leadership positions in a small organization or learning a new skill set as the client or organizational needs change.

Related: Workplace Continuous Improvement Plan: Definition, Techniques and Examples

Cross-functional collaboration

Working for a nonprofit requires collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, including volunteers, employees, funders, community partners and the clients your organization serves. It may also require engagement with various systems and agencies, including legal, educational or medical institutions.

The task of collaborating builds the communication, problem-solving and related interpersonal skills of employees, which are transferrable to a broad range of other industries.

Related: Guide To Listing Volunteer Work on a Resume (with Example)

Essential traits for working for a nonprofit

As with any job, there are unique skills and characteristics that make someone a strong candidate for a nonprofit organization. Here are four integral skills for working for a nonprofit:

Flexibility

Being able to adapt to the changing needs of your target population and/or the surrounding community is critical for success in the nonprofit industry. Flexibility in response to the unique criteria of the organization you are supporting is also valuable. An afterschool programming nonprofit organization, for example, must be able to comply with the unique rules and regulations of each school it supports. Similarly, a social service worker must be able to accommodate the varying work schedules of clients when scheduling home visits.

Communication

In addition to engaging with clients via verbal and nonverbal communication, nonprofit organizations also communicate with a broad range of stakeholders. This includes drafting memos and policy documents, creating financial statements and grant proposals and generating year-end reports for donor groups. Technical writing skills are equally critical to the ability to convey a compassionate message that reflects the core values of the organization.

Passion

Maintaining motivation and stamina for the work of nonprofit organizations requires a tremendous passion for the communities and issues these organizations serve. This often comes from an internal place but can be sustained and deepened by effective leaders and strong organizations. Creating opportunities to remain connected to your core mission and vision can help sustain passion in nonprofit work.

Persistence

Being persistent in the face of challenges or obstacles helps ensure nonprofit organizations meet the needs of the communities they serve. This means following up multiple times, brainstorming new ways to meet a need, exploring all possible funding opportunities to raise money and more.

Nonprofit jobs list

There are a variety of interesting and rewarding nonprofit jobs across a range of industries. Here are four examples:

National average salary: $15.81 per hour

Primary duties: A community health worker is a public health professional that serves as a liaison between community members and health or social services. They provide information about health and wellness with the public, share resources, connect people to services and advocate for the expansion of health and social services in the community. They may also perform basic health screenings and report data to the government or other agencies.

National average salary: $18.62 per hour

Primary duties: A case manager is a professional who supervises the coordination of social services to individuals and families. This often includes conducting home visits and making reports about areas of need, connecting people to social services, doing proactive outreach to at-risk communities and providing intensive services following a crisis situation.

National average salary: $42,796 per year

Primary duties: A grant writer creates written proposals to request funding from the government and private and corporate donors to support a particular cause of a project. This process involves researching potential donors, writing a well-written grant that makes a compelling case about the urgency of the project and explaining details about how the money would be spent.

Upon approval, grant writers may also be involved in project management of the grant through the duration of the project.

National average salary: $52,272 per year

Primary duties: A social worker provides mental health and/or case management services to children, families and communities. Working in health, education and community sectors, social workers provide direct services of assessment, intervention planning and counseling. They also provide indirect services of case management, referral or linkage to social services and record-keeping of clinical case notes and treatment history.

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