Nonprofit organizations are businesses that advance important social causes and do not earn profits or take in revenues beyond their expenses. Instead, nonprofits are funded primarily by donations from philanthropic organizations, individuals, and governments, although they may also sell products and services or engage in other fundraising activities in order to help support their operations. Nonprofits may qualify for tax-exempt status in the U.S., giving this structure important financial advantages in return for addressing pressing social issues, environmental problems, and other challenges we face.
Because these organizations do not fund their operations through profits, successful nonprofit sector management is different in some ways from running a conventional business. In particular, nonprofit development professionals and fundraisers must nurture a network of donors and ensure that they support and understand the impacts of their work. At the same time, today’s best practices for social entrepreneurship draw on many of the same principles as for-profit startups, including innovative uses of data and technology as well as human-centric approaches to problem solving and such as design thinking.
If you’re passionate about making the world a better place, working at a nonprofit gives you the opportunity to pursue a deeply rewarding career. Regardless of whether you want to work to advance social justice, fight climate change, help homeless populations, or pursue other causes, nonprofits need great professionals in communications, human resources, accounting, IT and most of the other types of jobs required at a conventional for-profit business.
One very important career path that is specific to the nonprofit sector is fundraising and development, as these professionals are responsible for keeping these organizations financially sustainable. Like salespeople in other fields, this work requires a combination of great social skills, communications savvy, and a sharp financial acumen. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fundraisers earn a median annual salary of $57,970, and these jobs are expected to grow much faster than average.
Yes! Coursera offers many courses as well as Specializations spanning multiple courses about nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, and related topics. You can learn remotely on a flexible schedule from top-ranked schools like State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Virginia. And, since you’ll pay a significantly lower tuition than on-campus students, you’ll be saving money that you can donate to great nonprofits already making the world a better place - or to help start a social venture of your own.
People who have a desire to make a difference with a community, a segment of the population, or an industry are best suited for roles in nonprofit work. It helps to have a passion for the type of work the agency does, whether it’s supporting people facing challenges, taking care of animals, or educating the public about health and safety. Individuals who work well in the nonprofit sector tend to have strong collaboration and communication skills. It also can be helpful to be a creative problem solver who thinks outside the box.
Common career paths for someone in the nonprofit sector include working for public or private charitable organizations, social advocacy groups, corporate giving programs, or industry-specific education organizations. Roles within these groups include leadership positions like executive director, office management, and program management. Members of community outreach teams and fundraisers work with the public. Other positions like grant writing typically take place behind the scenes.
Other topics you can study that are related to nonprofits include business management, finance, and communication. The specific courses you may consider taking may vary depending on the type of role you want to have in the nonprofit sector. For example, if you want to work in leadership, topics like strategic leadership, project planning, and leading people may be beneficial. You may also consider studying topics in the fields of social psychology, anthropology, and foreign languages.
Places that hire people with a background in nonprofit include corporations, schools, and government agencies. Companies that value social responsibility may choose to hire employees who already value social change or have specialized knowledge about an industry. People with nonprofit experience often are team players who bring their passion to work. Many of the skills you hone working in a nonprofit, such as networking and problem-solving, typically transfer over to roles in for-profit organizations.
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