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Picture this: You work in a vibrant industry – the nonprofit sector – improving the quality of life for countless recipients. Each day you and your colleagues face challenges that define the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” With passion fueling a profound sense of purpose and meaning in your life, even long days won’t dull the enthusiasm. You’ll talk about the work, learn about it, live it; because, true passion becomes a part of you.

Increasingly, our work paradigm is shifting. More and more Americans want jobs they can care about, finding fulfillment in the knowledge their work is enabling real change. Nowhere is this more clearly visible than in the nonprofit sector.

Nonprofits work for the common good of society in some way, using charitable, scholastic, scientific or religious channels. All revenue received is ploughed back into the cause – there are no profits paid out to investors or stakeholders. From animal shelters to research institutions, there are myriads of associations, churches, private foundations, community charities, feeding schemes, and advocacy groups that need dedicated people.


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If you’re looking for work in the nonprofit sector, you’ll see that many of the roles are the same as any you’ll find in the business world. Accounting, web design, management, communications, public relations, human resources and administration are all necessary. Then there are the fundraisers, community coordinators, volunteer managers and development specialists that are unique to the industry.

For the most part, the nonprofit sector is staffed by paid professionals. While many nonprofits need and value volunteers, there are some nonprofits that don’t use volunteer help at all. In most cases, central to the delivery of services and successful programs, there will be a core of skilled people. It’s the organization itself that isn’t making a profit, not the professionals employed by it.

Passion with a purpose

The following scenarios are just three of many conceivable personal milestones; the overriding message here is to do the work you love. Following your passion has become a feel-good mantra that would be cliché were it not so true. For those whose passion is to help others, joining the nonprofit sector can offer a deep sense of personal fulfillment along with the job. (Also read Consider an Entry Level Nonprofit Job.)

  • Fresh Out of College

    You’ve always known that you wanted to work in nonprofits since you volunteered at your local animal shelter, the summer of your freshman year. The first step in your nonprofit career can come when you graduate with your newly minted diploma in hand, ready to take on the world. The nonprofit sector needs the enthusiasm and drive of new graduates and offers countless ways to work and train simultaneously. Some nonprofits are able to offer some form of student loan deferral or forgiveness, so go where you can find the “best fit.”

  • Transitioning

    Is your business career unfulfilling and you want to make a move to the nonprofit sector? You’ve found that pursuing a career in corporate America is stultifying; you want to contribute, taking action to improve the community or the world. Like many others, you can make the transition from business into a career in nonprofits. Chances are all the skills and experience that you’ve developed will be well-matched to a career in nonprofits.

  • Re-Entry with Purpose

    Did you choose to go the conventional route after college, “Because it was expected” and the obvious way to pay back those college loans? Then life happened – children, moving, traveling, whatever – something created a career interruption. And there you are, getting back on the bandwagon, having not worked formally for years. Now your priorities have changed and you want to do work you can believe in.

Skills and trade-offs

Versatility is a key attribute to have when launching a successful career in the nonprofit sector. Are you able to wear a lot of hats?

Nonprofit professionals tackle a variety of tasks, both as a leader and a self-starter. From organizing volunteers and collaborating with colleagues, you can find yourself tracking expenses, doing paperwork, and fundraising. And if the workloads increase, you may have to pinch-hit as there isn’t always money to hire additional staff.

Nonprofit work is meaningful work, focusing on furthering a cause and improving the world. Spending long hours working each week has to deliver more than a paycheck and in the words of one mentor, “You owe it to yourself to love what you’re doing each day.”

Ask yourself what you’re willing to give up to follow your passion. Leaving the conventional business sector behind means there will be trade-offs to consider. These trade-offs can be worth it if you’re going to be happier, less stressed and spending more time with the people you love. It’s a choice but you need to know the cost. An in-depth commentary on the structure of nonprofit vs. for profit careers and the pros and cons of nonprofit work can be found here.

Volunteering helps with nonprofit and for-profit jobs alike

Apart from a heart for the mission and a desire to make a difference, what do you need for a career in the nonprofit sector? There is nothing to beat experience, experience and more experience. It may seem daunting but experience is one thing that’s relatively easy to get. Have you got volunteer or internship experience at a charity or non-profit?

Recruiters are looking for you. The more experience you have in non-profit work, the better. And volunteering makes getting that experience much easier.

Nonprofit work offers opportunities and paths that never happen in a traditional, structured corporate environment. When we love what we do, there’s more energy, more motivation, more creativity and we inspire each other. Happiness and enthusiasm – the by-products of doing the work we love – is the very best kind of success.

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