Skip to main content

More People Want Jobs With Meaning

Have you ever thought about trying to change the world? Many people have -- and some of them have found satisfying careers working for nonprofit organizations.

Chances are you've come across a nonprofit already. If you've ever donated used clothing to the Salvation Army or to United Way, then you've dealt directly with a nonprofit.

Nonprofits are organizations that support a specific cause, such as ending hunger in poor countries, finding a cure for cancer or sheltering animals. Unlike corporations, nonprofits exist solely to advance their cause, and not to turn a profit (hence the name "nonprofit").

Getting Started

The best way to get started in the nonprofit sector is to volunteer at an organization that interests you. "That way, you feel what it's like working there, you get a sense of the different types of work they do," says Janice Rapier. She's the jobs training and education director at Seattle Goodwill, a job-training center.

"You also need to know what kind of person you are," says Rapier. "If helping others is important to you, working at a nonprofit may be a good match."

Since nonprofits depend mostly on public donations and government grants, salaries at nonprofits may be lower than those at private companies.

But if you're passionate about saving the environment, or helping the homeless, there's no better place to work than at an organization dedicated to the cause.

Kristina Johnson was a newspaper reporter before switching careers. She's now the deputy press secretary at Sierra Club, an organization dedicated to protecting the environment.

"I've always loved the outdoors," says Johnson. "The time I've spent outside hiking, climbing and skiing led to a natural desire to protect wild places. I studied international development and environmental journalism, and my current job allows me to combine all of my interests.

"I get to use my communications skills to protect the mountains and wildlife I love, but also to help people -- to promote the kind of clean energy and green jobs that fight global warming and make healthy communities and a healthy economy."

Working at a Nonprofit

Nonprofits hire people from nearly all fields -- from doctors to engineers, information technology specialists to clerical staff.

So if you have dreams of becoming a nurse, you can obtain your nursing degree, work in a clinic or hospital for several years, and then apply to a nonprofit. Doctors Without Borders is a nonprofit that provides medical aid to people in war-torn and impoverished countries. It hires nurses and sends them overseas.

Even some lawyers turn to careers in nonprofit. John Richardson is the managing partner of Pivot Legal LLP and executive director of Pivot Legal Society. The law firm donates its profits to fight poverty and homelessness.

The firm's summer internship program is very popular. Law students from as far away as Europe volunteer at the firm to gain experience. Job applications from lawyers also come in on a weekly basis.

"We're getting lawyers who are dissatisfied with traditional law firm practice, either because they want to work with a social purpose, or because they want a change from the traditional law firm environment," says Richardson.

"So when they look at a place like Pivot, a place with a reputation for social responsibility and a service-oriented culture, there's definitely an attraction, especially if they have motivations to do social justice work."

Laura Track is a second-year lawyer with Pivot Legal Society. "People want work that they feel good about doing, work that's valued and meaningful, in a workplace that values work-life balance," she says. Work-life balance means a comfortable balance between work and one's personal life.

Make no mistake, working at a nonprofit isn't easy. "People work pretty hard here," says Richardson. "We don't track hours, but I will see people here till 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. on a Friday."

"We work long hours," says Johnson. "We fight tough battles.... And we have lots of fun."

One thing you'll find at nonprofits is people who are motivated to help others. "I think it's important that one enjoys helping people out, at least within this organization," says Rapier.

"I wouldn't say it's a 'savior mentality,' but in our organization, people want to be of service to others.... Whenever I take visitors on a tour, they can see that people here enjoy what they do."

"When you work at a nonprofit like Sierra Club, you work with people who are committed to something larger than themselves," says Johnson. "The people I work with aren't here for the money. They're here because they want to leave a better world for our grandkids."

Another less attractive characteristic of nonprofits is their lack of resources. Track recalls the adjustment she had to make when she left her job at the Department of Justice.

"It was a massive pendulum swing for me," she says. "At the [Department of Justice], we had more resources in the way of legal assistance and secretarial support. At Pivot, I've had to make more trips to the courthouse library to do my research, but I've also learned how to be more efficient with substantially less."

The good news is that people at nonprofits have lots of opportunity to grow their careers. "The upside of having a smaller staff and limited resources is that there is a lot of opportunity to take on more responsibility and develop your skills," says Johnson.

So there you have it. Still feel like changing the world? Remember, if you're considering a career at a nonprofit organization, it's important to care about the nonprofit's vision.

Loren Balisky is the community coordinator at Kinbrace House, a nonprofit that provides housing for refugee claimants. "I don't think I'd be able to work in any other area," she says.

"For instance, I don't think I can work on homelessness issues -- it's just not my forte. At Kinbrace, I enjoy welcoming people from other cultures. I feel my skills and experience are put to good use here."

Be honest about what you want out of your career, because working at a nonprofit isn't for everyone. However, if you find yourself pulled to a particular cause, don't be afraid to follow your instincts.

"Fundamentally, I find my work deeply rewarding and enriching," says Balisky. "I wouldn't trade it for anything else."

Search for jobs in the nonprofit sector

National Council of Nonprofits
Learn the emerging trends and practices of non-profit organizations

Transitioning to a Nonprofit
Get some advice

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.