Have you ever considered working for a nonprofit organization? Although students interested in human service professions gravitate towards nonprofits, there are prospects for a variety of majors and skill sets. Seeking an internship or volunteering with a nonprofit organization is an excellent way to gain some experience and explore what is also known as the 3rd sector. I am currently taking an Internship Prep class and am enthusiastic about seeking a formal internship this semester. While searching for possible sites, it became clear to me that I didn’t know enough about nonprofits and how they function.
So, I did some research and here’s what I learned:
What are nonprofits?
Nonprofits are focused on a mission or purpose rather than making a profit. If recognized as “public charities” they are often not required to pay taxes, but still face the challenge of sustaining themselves financially by fundraising and securing grants. If the organization makes a surplus, that profit goes into providing more services or improving the services already provided. They often work in collaboration with governmental and for-profit organizations.
How is working with a nonprofit different than working with a for-profit organization?
There are a few pros and cons to consider if you are considering seeking employment with a nonprofit:
- The knowledge that your work makes a difference in the lives of others.
- Working alongside people who are passionate and enthusiastic.
- Lack of a hierarchy: the work environment of these organizations can be more team orientated. Coworkers may feel more like family.
- New ideas are often welcomed because flexible and creative problem solving is required for daily challenges (such as raising funds to sustain the organization).
- Nonprofits may lack in resources and materials.
- May have loosely defined or ambiguous job responsibilities.
- Can be understaffed, which can lead to burn out.
- May pay less than a for-profit organization.
If you’re interested in the 3rd sector, how do you get started?
Whether you’re looking for an internship, a volunteering opportunity or a job here are some helpful hints:
1. Do your research and see what’s out there. There are many qualities, which can make you attractive to nonprofit employers. Number one? Being passionate about their mission. Although internships look nice on a resume, I wouldn’t recommend pursuing one for that purpose alone. Really think about the setting and the population of people you’d like to work with. There are many resources available to you! If you are a student at UMD come and visit us at Career & Internship Services in Solon Campus Center (the Wedge)! There are plenty of great books dedicated to this subject and provide information about a variety of nonprofits and their mission statements. You can also chat with a career counselor about your interest in working with nonprofits. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is also a great resource to learn more about the nonprofit sector specifically in Minnesota.
2. Volunteer at an organization who has a mission you are invested in personally. Volunteers are critical to the day-to-day operation of most of these organizations. Volunteering can provide a chance to network and determine whether or not you’d like to seek internship or employment opportunities in the future. If you are a full-time student, you may be a little wary of committing too much of your time and energy into volunteering, but don’t worry! By doing a little research in advance, you can find the right amount of commitment without overloading your schedule.
3. Be persistent in your pursuit. Unless it’s an organization like the American Red Cross or YMCA, 74% of these nonprofits are small organizations and often don’t have employees assigned to Human Resources. That means, the person who is looking over your resume or volunteer application probably has lots of other stuff to do and it is easy for you to get lost in the shuffle. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately get a reply. Take initiative. Call. Visit. Inquire.
Be bold and your efforts will be rewarded!
Of Possible Interest:
- Idealist – job/internship/volunteer board focused on nonprofit organizations
- 10 Myths About Working in the Nonprofit Sector