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Considering working for a nonprofit can be very confusing, because there are a myriad of choices. A not-for-profit organization is “an organization that uses surplus revenues to achieve its goals rather than distributing them as profit or dividends”. Nonprofits usually are centered on a cause (e.g. education, health, and environment) or a specific population (e.g. children, women, elderly).

Nonprofits are funded by foundations, government grants, membership dues, and fees for services they provide. They typically attract people who are passionate about solving social problems. By working in this sector, you can make a positive impact on behalf of a specific cause.

Nonprofit work can range from providing direct service (working directly with individuals or groups) or administrative roles. 

Direct Service Roles: 

Administrative Roles:

Skills to develop for success in this industry

Skills required in nonprofits will be dependent upon the role (administrative or direct service), but broadly speaking these are the skills many employers look for: 

  • Ability to communicate with different stakeholders   
  • Creativity
  • Enthusiasm & knowledge for the cause
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Multi-tasking
  • Perceptiveness
  • Service Orientation
  • Time Management 

Key information or knowledge for this field

Job Search Advice:

  • In addition to the basic skills needed to perform the job, you need to convey passion for the organization and what you will be doing. 
  • Since many nonprofit employees fill several different roles in an organization, competitive candidates need to also demonstrate transferable skills. 
  • If an organization of interest has never hired an intern, don’t let this stop you from approaching them about considering you and what you can offer. 
  • Highlight volunteer experience, as this demonstrates commitment and familiarity with nonprofit organizations. 
  • Nonprofit organizations typically practice “just in time hiring” which means when there is a current need they work to fill that need.  For this reason, it would not be uncommon for an organization to post openings during the spring quarter. Common exceptions to this hiring practice include large organizations or those that have a formally developed internship program.  In this case, opportunities will likely be posted during the winter quarter. 

Interviewing Advice:

Candidates need to express their connection to the organizational mission and culture. Hiring managers seek individuals that have a genuine commitment to helping the community and making a difference. Describing your relevant experience, course projects, volunteer work and campus involvement can be a great way to translate your commitment to a mission. Nonprofit hiring managers are seeking to find a candidate who is able to wear many hats on the team. Being adaptable is key, especially when applying to small organizations. Describe past experience where you have held multiple roles or can handle working under unexpected circumstances.  

Sample Nonprofit Interview Questions 

  • How do you feel about [cause/belief that the nonprofit works for]?
  • Tell me about a time you have worked with a limited budget.
  • What do you think are the greatest challenges facing non-profits today?
  • How would go about recruiting and maintaining volunteers?
  • How would you say your experiences have prepared you to work with a non-profit? 

Online resources specific to this industry

  • Guidestar: Searchable database of non-profit organizations. Provides detailed information on each organization including a description, contact information, and additional organization information. 
  • Idealist: domestic and international jobs with non-profits and ngos
  • non-profit and policy jobs in Chicago
  • Work for Good: non-profit job posting site that also offers job search tips

Relevant student groups and professional organizations

Northwestern Student Groups: 

External Professional Organizations: