How to Transition to a Nonprofit Career


How to Transition to a Nonprofit Career

If you’ve been working in a traditional career for a “for-profit” organization for a while, and you’re thinking about how to transition to a nonprofit career, the differences between the two sectors might not be as great as you think.

From an employee perspective, think of it this way: both nonprofits and for-profit organizations can take in profits, but nonprofit organizations generally use profits for the purpose of the organization, rather than earning profit for profit’s sake.

Jobs with nonprofits usually have a “greater good” mission, so if you’re transitioning to that field, think about how an organization’s goals might mesh with your personal objectives, and with your career, in the long term.

The Job Outlook for Nonprofit Work

Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society released a Nonprofit Employment Report last year that details “new data on employment and wages in private, nonprofit establishments in the United States from 2007 through 2016, with a special focus on how nonprofit employment fared during the postrecessionary period from 2012-2016.”

The report found that the nonprofit sector is one of the largest workforces in the U.S., just behind retail and food services. It also is the third-largest generator of payroll income in the U.S., employing 12.3 million paid workers.

When it comes to the top fields for nonprofit jobs, 55% of all nonprofit jobs are in the healthcare field. Educational services comprise 14% of nonprofit jobs, and social assistance at 12%.

The Johns Hopkins report shows great news for salaries of nonprofit workers. While most people think nonprofits pay less than for-profit businesses, the report found that all but three industries pay “somewhat higher average weekly wages than for-profit enterprises operating in the same field.”

Over the 2007-2016 period, nonprofit jobs beat for-profit job growth by nearly four times (16.7% vs. 4.6%). These findings show that nonprofit jobs are growing and available for qualified professionals.

Why Nonprofit Jobs Are Growing

What’s the reason for all of this growth within the nonprofit sector? The Johns Hopkins report points to a few reasons, namely:

Additionally, nonprofit work often connects with people who want to make a social difference and want their work to be meaningful. Currently, millennials are the largest group in the workforce. Gallup’s research on millennials found that this demographic most wants to work for a purpose. They are motivated by mission and purpose, rather than a paycheck.

This drive of increased social responsibility and awareness can lead to an increase in nonprofits and an increase in people wanting to find nonprofit jobs.

What to Expect in a Nonprofit Role

As mentioned earlier, nonprofit jobs don’t always pay less than their for-profit counterparts. The Johns Hopkins report found that nonprofit social assistance organizations pay 55% more than for-profits in the same field, educational institutions pay 45% more, ambulatory healthcare organizations pay 24% more, hospitals pay 14% more, and nursing homes pay 4% more.

Keep in mind that many nonprofit organizations rely on funding or grants to stay in operation. This can mean fewer resources, employees, and benefits. For example, you may have to supply your own computer or take on multiple duties that might usually be the job of two different people.

The flip side to this is that you may find more opportunities for professional development at a nonprofit as you wear many hats and carry out different tasks.

Additionally, many nonprofits highly value passion for the mission. You’ll likely work with like-minded people who are strong supporters of the nonprofit’s purpose. This can lead to increased job satisfaction from working towards a shared goal.

Transitioning to a Nonprofit Job

When it comes to moving careers, there are some steps that can help you make a smooth transition to a nonprofit job.

Research Helpful Sources

There are tons of resources that provide great guidance on working for a nonprofit. Consider exploring websites such as Idealist and Encore, both of which emphasize opportunities for job seekers looking to work for organizations that contribute to the greater good.

Also check out Candid, which has lots of data on where nonprofit money comes from and where it goes, which can help you make a wise decision when choosing a nonprofit to work for.

Assess Your Transferable Skills

Often, nonprofit jobs involve working in a more collaborative atmosphere that may not be as “top-down” as corporate environments. That’s not to say you won’t have a boss or have to answer to higher-ups—a board of directors, for example.

Still, making a transition to a nonprofit career is a good time to assess your skills and demonstrate not only that you take charge of a project or supervise people, but also that you’re happily capable of “playing well with others” and are committed to the cause. Consider what skills you’ve honed in your previous roles can make you a great candidate for a nonprofit job.

Redirect Your Educational Focus

Many educational institutions offer certificate programs in nonprofit management and leadership. While you may already have a great background that has served you well in the for-profit sector, you’ll demonstrate your new commitment to the nonprofit sector if you’ve broadened your educational credentials by earning a certificate in the nonprofit area, particularly if you’re looking at jobs in nonprofit management.

Volunteer for a Good Cause

For career changers, volunteering your talents by working a nonprofit, even on a part-time or pro bono basis, is a great way to try out your prospective new career and build resume credibility in the nonprofit landscape.

Volunteering for a nonprofit can rev up your enthusiasm for a worthwhile cause and help you to determine whether a nonprofit career is right for you.

Update Your Resume

With your volunteer experience and clarified transferable skills, get your resume in order to transition to a nonprofit role. Depending on your past career experience, consider if a functional resume (a skills-based resume) may be better for you than a standard chronological resume.

A summary of qualifications at the top of your resume may be ideal for this career change to quickly highlight any of your accomplishments that relate to your desired new role.

Use FlexJobs to Find a Nonprofit Job

When it comes time to search for a nonprofit job, FlexJobs has plenty of nonprofit jobs available with flexible work options, such as remote work, part-time work, flexible schedules, and freelance contracts.

Our jobs are all from verified employers, guaranteed to be real and legitimate roles. If you subscribe to FlexJobs, you’ll also have access to discounted career coaching, which can be helpful when transitioning to a new role. A career coach can help you get your resume ready, determine your transferable skills, practice interviewing, and more.


Rachel Jay contributed to this post. 

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Originally published June 6, 2015 and previously updated on December 6, 2017.

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Adrianne Bibby, FlexJobs Staff Writer

Adrianne Bibby is a staff writer at FlexJobs, the premier website for telecommuting, flexible schedule, and freelance job postings. Her writing focuses on work-balance issues, finding joy in your job, and using life experience to transition to a more meaningful,…Read More >

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