Accounting for 11.4 million jobs across the country, nonprofits make up 10.3 percent of all private sector employment, and with more than 150 million nonprofits in the United States alone, it’s no surprise that these jobs differ vastly from one another. Someone who works at a small, local organization faces different challenges from someone who works at a larger, national organization, and someone who works for a nonprofit arts center in Kansas has little in common with a marketing coordinator for a foundation New York City.
If nonprofit jobs are so different from one another, how do you even begin to prepare for a career in the nonprofit sector? Someone who wants to be an engineer studies engineering, and someone who wants to be a psychologist studies psychology, but it may not be so straightforward for someone who wants to work for a nonprofit. There are many ways you can prepare for a career in this field and many different paths that can lead you to your dream job.
In the classroom
What does your school have to offer? Many schools have introduced degrees in Nonprofit Management, but if your school doesn’t offer this program, that doesn’t prevent you from working in the nonprofit sector. There are plenty of other programs that will teach you similar skills and may be more tailored to your career interests. Human services, sociology, and business are a few majors that can also prepare you for work in the sector.
Strengthen the skills you already have.
According to a Bridgespan survey, 50 to 75 percent of the roles nonprofits will need to fill in the near future require traditional business skills. If you have a knack for math, don’t shy away from studying finance; you’ll find an organization in need of those skills. If you love to write, focus on communications. All organizations, nonprofit or for-profit, can benefit from good writing and clear communication. If you are passionate about learning Spanish, ¡puedes hacerlo! A second language is not only helpful but necessary for many organizations with international activities. Additionally, if you can’t decide on just one subject area, double majors and minors can make you a more adaptable job candidate.
Tailor your coursework. Even if your degree doesn’t indicate a specific nonprofit education, it doesn’t mean you didn’t learn anything about the sector. Check with your academic advisor to see if nonprofit courses taken at another university might count toward your degree. Even if the credits don’t count, you can highlight relevant courses on your résumé in a “Specialized Coursework and Projects” section. Professors are an invaluable resource for knowledge and experience, and establishing a strong connection with your professor could be great way to learn about research or internship opportunities.
Outside the classroom
Although a college education prepares you for the workforce, there’s a reason employers look at your résumé before they look at your transcript. Relevant experience is crucial, and jobs and internships aren’t the only “résumé boosters” out there. Almost all student organizations, from politics to sport teams to fraternities and sororities, dedicate at least some time and energy to fundraising and philanthropy. You can learn relevant skills by serving as the leader of philanthropy for your organization or volunteering at fundraising events.
Student organizations are also a great way to show what you’re passionate about. For example, if you want to work for the Human Society, get involved with your school’s animal rights organization. If you’d like to help the planet, see if your school has an environmental advocacy club. In job interviews, employers will be interested to hear what you learned from these on-campus experiences and how it can be applied to a position at their organization.
With 150 million nonprofits in the United States alone, there is a good chance that you’ll be able to find a nonprofit organization near your campus. Check out its volunteer opportunities and see if it has any internship positions available. If there are no nonprofits near you, see if you can intern remotely. If an organization doesn’t offer internships, ask if you can volunteer doing administrative work for its office. Just like an internship, you’ll be able to gain experience helping operations run smoothly. There is so much to learn from hands-on experience, and an internship goes above and beyond the learning you do in school. You can apply what you’ve learned in your courses, strengthen your own professional skills, and get a clearer picture of what you want to do in the nonprofit sector.
The easiest thing you can do during college to show your interest in the nonprofit sector is volunteer. It’s free, it’s flexible, and it’s fun. Whether you’re volunteering for your church, for a student organization, or for a local nonprofit, you show that you are passionate about using your time to improve the lives of others. The motivation, time-management, and dedication behind volunteering are valuable qualities in any job candidate, at a nonprofit or elsewhere.
My best friend and I both interned for nonprofits last semester. She is an International Affairs major with a minor in Spanish, and I’m a Political Science and Journalism double major. We joke about how even though we take completely different courses, we might end up working in the same place someday. This says less about the types of courses we’ve taken and more about what we’ve taken away from them. Through our experiences in the classroom and the workplace, we’ve developed interests and skills that could lead us to the same destination. By utilizing resources on and off campus, you can find one of the many paths that leads to work in the nonprofit sector.
The preceding post is by Abbie Wade, a communications coordinator for GuideStar. She is currently a rising senior at The George Washington University, studying Journalism & Mass Communication and Political Science.