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Career Paths in Nonprofits

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. Working in this sector individuals 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

  • Education/teaching
  • Clinician
  • Counseling
  • Advocacy

Administrative Roles

  • Program development (creating and implementing programs, such as starting a volunteer program or a program to help recent immigrants find employment)
  • Communications/marketing
  • Grant writing/development
  • ResearchPolicy

Examples of Nonprofit Organizations


  • The American Red Cross
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Teach for America
  • YMCA
  • United Jewish Federation


  • Lutheran Social Services
  • Children’s Aid Society
  • Community Catalyst
  • League of Women Voters
  • Ounce of Prevention Funds

Sample Entry Level Job Titles

Skills Needed

  • Creativity
  • Multi-tasking
  • Interpersonal
  • Time Management
  • Service Orientation
  • Writing
  • Social
  • Perceptiveness                       
  • Enthusiasm & knowledge for the cause

Sample Internship / Job Titles of NU Students/Alumni

  • Development Advisor, Feed My Starving Children
  • Event Planning Intern, Chinese Mutual Aid Association
  • Social Justice Advocate Volunteer, LIFT Chicago
  • Team Leader, SoapBox Soaps
  • Assistant Volunteer Management Specialist, Non-Profit Social Mission
  • Web Producer, Council on Foundations

More information about career paths:

Job Search & Interviewing Advice

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 in 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?
Job Search Tools

Get Involved

Join the conversation and follow the NCA Nonprofit Facebook account.


  • To successfully navigate the internship and job search process, it is important to take an active approach to networking and expanding your Northwestern career network.
  • Network with your virtual connections: Use LinkedIn to search and join industry related groups. Northwestern Alumni Association.
  • Build relationships with your personal connections: academic contacts, former employers, campus organizations
Professional Associations

Student Organizations

  • Alternative Spring Break
  • Autism Speaks
  • Best Buddies
  • Camp Kesem
  • Cancer Outreach Prevention Education
  • Dance Marathon
  • Freshmen Urban Program
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Happiness Club
  • New Life Volunteering Society
  • Northwestern Community Develop Corps
  • Campus Kitchens
  • Chinatown Health Initiative
  • Northwestern Students for Life
  • NU Gives Back
  • NU Heights
  • Peer Health Exchange
  • Relay for Life
  • Rotaract
  • Special Olympics
  • Student Blood Services
  • Supplies for Dreams
  • Minichefz