Best Degrees for Non-profit Work

From pursuing a nonprofit career to volunteering one’s professional skills, the ways to have an impact are as varied as the problems.

November 10, 2021

Best Degrees for Non-profit Work

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What Degrees do Nonprofit Organizations Look For

The desire to address challenging problems at local, state, national and international levels is felt by all ages and professions. From pursuing a nonprofit management degree to volunteering one’s professional skills, the ways to have an impact are as varied as the problems. Use this guide to find out how to combine a passion for making a difference while using one’s specialized career knowledge.

Linking College Degrees to Nonprofit Careers

From administrative assistant to staff attorney to environmental policy analyst, nonprofit organizations (NPOs) require skilled employees and volunteers to succeed in their mission. The following section connects degrees that often lead to volunteer and employment opportunities.

Arts

Education

Environmental Science

Health Services


Healthcare Administration

Medical Assisting

Nursing

Nutrition

Physical Therapy

Psychology

Public Health

RN-to-MSN

Healthcare Administration

International Relations and Development


Business Management

Communications

Finance

MBA

Social and Legal


Criminal Justice

Legal

Paralegal

Social Work

Working at a Nonprofit

Like their governmental, private and public sector counterparts, nonprofit organizations are filled with talented employees with significant ambitions. The following section highlights what it’s like to work at a nonprofit, questions to ask when considering a nonprofit career, and the differences between the private and nonprofit sectors.

Key Attributes of a Nonprofit Organization

Nonprofits are organizations with a purpose other than turning a massive profit. While sensible financial management is still an objective, nonprofits dedicate the majority of their time and energy to furthering the public good. These organizations are typically exempt from federal income tax, using surplus revenues to further its mission rather than distributing revenues to shareholders as profit.

5 other things to know about nonprofits include:

  1. 501(c)(3)
    The term 501(c)(3) refers to tax-exempt, charitable organizations that have been recognized and approved by the Internal Revenue Service. Charitable organizations typically have purposes that fall into categories benefiting the public good.
  2. Types of nonprofits
    The Internal Revenue Service recognizes a variety of nonprofit organizations, not just 501(c)(3) groups. Examples include private foundations, social clubs, veteran’s organizations, and business leagues.
  3. Charities
    Charity is a broad term many use when referring to nonprofit organizations. However, not all nonprofits are charities. A charity holds legal 501(c)(3) recognition from the IRS.
  4. Private foundations
    By definition, all organizations that qualify for 501(c)(3) recognition are considered private foundations until they meet the IRS’ public charity public support requirements. Private foundations are nonprofit organizations funded by a single source, such as a family donor, that conduct a range of charitable, religious or educational activities.
  5. Not-for-Profit
    Nonprofit and not-for-profit are terms often used interchangeably, but not-for-profit should typically only be used when referring to an activity, such as a recreation or sport. The term nonprofit denotes an organization focused on larger social or public issues.

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Nonprofits vs. The Private Sector

Unlike many private companies, service—not profit—is the motivating force of nonprofit organizations. Although their goals may be different, both types share similar roles and departments, including human resources, marketing, administration, communication, IT, and management. For individuals interested in nonprofit work, it is important to note the central differences between nonprofit and for-profit career fields.

Nonprofits may not be equipped with the latest iterations of technology, the largest budgets or the biggest teams – but they still need to accomplish their missions. Employees may also face red-tape or a slower approval timeline from an executive board or committee, which is comprised of volunteer members. Unlike a private sector worker, nonprofit employees rely on public or outside funding to keep paychecks moving into their bank accounts. Nearly every nonprofit employee will be involved with fundraising on some level including grant writing, special events or donation drives. Although the job title may say “Director of Development,” an individual in that role probably wears an additional hat or three. Because of limited staffing and resources, nonprofit employees must broaden their skill sets and occupy multiple roles simultaneously. Unlike their 8-5 counterparts, nonprofit employees may be expected to contribute longer hours to achieve the organization’s mission. From working a fundraising event to staying an additional hour at a community park clean-up, nonprofit employees encounter a more fluid work environment.

Working for a Nonprofit: What to Know

The nonprofit arena is appealing to many individuals, ranging from private sector employees seeking a career change to recent graduates looking to make a difference. While nonprofit work can fulfill one’s altruistic desires, there are several things to consider before joining the ranks of NPOs.

While some people have a strong desire to serve their communities or dedicate their skills to a cause, they may not know what roles are available. Many nonprofits function with the same job titles as private sector companies, ranging from accountants to IT specialists. With a diverse range of missions, candidates should consider how their academic background, professional experience and personal interests translate to a specific nonprofit organization or cause. While nonprofit jobs may land on the lower side of the salary spectrum, the tradeoff is satisfying work and making a difference in the world. For those weighing their salary options, the Non Profit Times produces an annual salary report that provides in-depth insight into the salaries of nonprofit workers. Before taking a nonprofit role, individuals should understand their motivation to work at the chosen organization. Because nonprofits require much dedication from their employees, those who aren’t devoted to the mission may look to find something else quickly. While many degrees are useful at a nonprofit, degrees in business administration, nonprofit management, social work, and public administration may hold special value. Prospective nonprofit workers may also want to consider finishing nonprofit certification training, available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Succeeding in the nonprofit world requires setting appropriate expectations. Due to budget restrictions, a nonprofit may not have access to the latest technologies, high paying salaries or administrative staff. Those new to the world of nonprofits also need to familiarize themselves with how boards of directors and committees function. A major benefit for nonprofit employees is the opportunity to venture outside of their job description. Some nonprofits have smaller staffs, allowing everyone to wear multiple hats. This gives everyone – ranging from the receptionist to the executive director – the opportunity expand their knowledge and skill sets. While private companies and nonprofit organizations possess many similarities, going to work for an NPO for the first time may feel like venturing into the unknown. No day is like the day before and workers should enjoy a certain level of fluidity, be able to juggle competing demands, maintain an organized and practical approach to problem solving, and readily embrace the challenge of working with limited resources.

Becoming a Skills-Based Volunteer

Because nonprofits often work with limited resources, volunteers play an integral role in the success of countless organizations. From baby boomers to corporate employees to millennials, these volunteers help an organization make an impact with their knowledge and skillset. This is also known as skills-based volunteering.

Skills-based volunteering (SBV) is an emerging field that matches the skills of corporate professionals with the needs of nonprofit organizations. The process stands to benefit NPOs as they gain the expertise of professionals they may not be able to afford otherwise. According to research from Independent Sector, the value of a skilled volunteer can reach hundreds of dollars per hour.

SBV covers a range of professional areas, from legal services to strategic consulting, mental health counseling to project management. Through their efforts, SBV volunteers help nonprofits develop and enhance their infrastructure, increase capacity and achieve more with less. Example efforts include program development, staff training, marketing, and fundraising. The SBV movement continues to gain momentum throughout the country, with corporate employers launching new SBV partnership opportunities for their skilled professionals. SBV groups, such as the Taproot Foundation, connects professionals in major cities to skills-based volunteering opportunities.

The potential is great for skills-based volunteers to make an impact on the lives of veterans, improve the economy and environment, and help when disaster strikes. Read the section below to learn about available opportunities for each cause.

Veterans and Military Families

Disaster Preparedness

Economic Opportunity

Youth and Education

  • Tutor, StreetSquash Newark: Mentor and tutor students in grades 6 – 9 during and after school sessions in English, history, science, and math
  • Mentor, Families Center: Serve as a mentor in the Just Buddies Program; participate in fun activities for children between the ages of six and 16 who are experiencing parental absence

Civil and Human Rights

Nonprofit Capacity

Social Entrepreneurship

Resources

Skill-based volunteering remains a developing concept, but it is rapidly being embraced by employers, corporate professionals and nonprofits alike. Below is a list of organizations and resources that connect interested individuals to SBV opportunities.

AllForGood
AllForGood is an online search engine from Points of Light, offering a searchable database of skilled volunteering projects throughout the country.

CampusInternships
From summer internships to part and full-time jobs, CampusInternships is the place for those looking to gain experience in the field of their choice.

Catchafire
Catchafire is an online portal of volunteer projects that allows nonprofits to find skilled-based volunteers directly and for SBV individuals to locate a project in their local area.

Catholic Volunteer Network
CVN is a nonprofit membership network consisting of 215 organizations that matches interested volunteers to opportunities in domestic and international locales.

Common Impact
Common Impact is a nonprofit organization that matches volunteers to nonprofit opportunities in the Boston region, especially in areas of human resources, marketing, technology and financial management.

Executive Service Corps
Executive Service Corps helps nonprofits with capacity building through a national network of volunteers and supporters offering consulting and coaching services.

Give an Hour
Give an Hour is a nonprofit organization seeking trained and skilled professionals to provide mental health counseling and support to military servicemen and their families.

Global Volunteer Network
GVN brings together volunteers and organizations working toward the public good in local communities throughout the world.

HandsOn Network
As one of the country’s largest networks of local volunteer centers, HandsOn engages skilled volunteers across thousands of projects.

HandsOn Suburban Chicago
HandsOn Suburban Chicago recruits volunteers through an online volunteer matching database to more than 200 nonprofits in 44 communities throughout Chicago.

HandsOn Tech
HandsOn Tech is a specialized program allowing technology professionals to lend their expertise as presenters, trainers and consultants to nonprofits in need.

Jericho Road Project
The Jericho Road Project brings together skilled professionals and volunteer opportunities at nonprofits in various service areas throughout Massachusetts.

Moving Worlds
This website connects skilled professionals who want to travel with social impact organizations serving communities across the globe.

Network for Good
An online resource, NfG includes a search tool allowing skill-based volunteers to find volunteer programs matched to their personal interests, expertise and location.

Points of Light
Points of Light offers the HandsOn Network which connects volunteers to SBV opportunities in one of its more than 250 volunteering centers throughout the country.

Pro Bono Partnership
Pro Bono Partnership offers free legal services to nonprofit organizations in the Northeast, helping organizations develop their capacity to better serve local communities.

ProBono
ProBono is an online resource for lawyers seeking to provide pro-bono legal services in the United States and abroad.

Raise5
Raise5 is a crowd-funded take on skilled-based volunteering, allowing professionals to sell their services and donate the proceeds to a charity of the user’s choice.

ReServe
ReServe matches professionals aged 55 and above to volunteering opportunities with nonprofits in need of skilled expertise.

Skilled Volunteers for Israel
SVI offers a network that facilitates skilled volunteering opportunities for individuals interested in supporting Israeli nonprofits.

Taproot Foundation
This foundation engages professionals in volunteer/pro bono service in five metropolitan areas via three core programs: service grants, advocacy and advisory services.

Volunteer Connect
VC recruits skill-based volunteers and links their interests to the needs of nonprofit organizations working in central Oregon.

Volunteer Match
Hosting a database of volunteer opportunities, VM connects prospective volunteers to positions in areas ranging from disaster preparation to homelessness.

Volunteer New York!
This organization solicits skilled-based volunteers and matches them to opportunities with nonprofit groups functioning throughout New York.

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