Responsible careers in nonprofits

To socio-eco innovators (SEIs), 'responsible career' means 'generating an income from completing projects that address a social need or aim at restoring or protecting our environment'.  The good news is that today, opportunities for SEIs are available across the private, nonprofit and government sectors.  However, as an SEI, more choices means more research to determine which sector is a better fit for you to make your positive contribution to our world.  As many of my previous posts have focused on opportunities to get business done better in the private sector, here are a few pointers for readers that are interested in pursuing responsible career opportunities in the nonprofit sector.

Roles available in nonprofits -  Broadly speaking, there are 5 main categories of business roles - finance, marketing, operations, supply chain and human capital management.  Each of these roles also exists in the nonprofit sector, but they are named differently, which leads to confusion when business professionals want to transition to nonprofit work.  For instance, instead of marketing, you might hear fundraising or advocacy or public relations.  Or instead of operations, you might have program management or direct services.  When reading job descriptions, pay less attention to the title than to the position description.  Chances are that the skills required (or listed as preferred) will be very similar than those needed in business. A recent blog post on CommonGood Careers confirms that the soft and hard skills most in demand in the nonprofit sector are very similar to those in demand in the private sector.  Soft skills that are in high demand include communication skills, entrepreneurial thinking, positive attitude and working well on teams.  Hard skills in high demand include analytical skills, research and writing skills, as well as functional experience in the responsible career opportunity you covet.  Note that whether you developed these skill sets as a volunteer or as a paid member of a team is not important to most nonprofit hiring managers. For more information on functional roles and skill sets, I highly recommend the career guide that Meg Busse wrote for This free career guide available on focuses on strategies to successfully transition to the nonprofit sector for mid-career professionals.  Another free guide is also available for first-time job seekers interested in nonprofit careers.

Finding nonprofit opportunities - The nonprofit sector is bigger than many people anticipate. Indeed, a study by the Urban Institute shows that the nonprofit sector currently employs 61.2 million full- and part-time workers. Furthermore, results from the 2010 National Nonprofit Employment Trend Survey show that large nonprofits plan to add staff in 2010, which might lead to interesting responsible career opportunities for SEIs. Therefore, if you are considering a career as an SEI in the nonprofit sector, looking for opportunities in mid-level management at large nonprofits might enable you to generate a decent income while making a difference. The best sites to identify nonprofit opportunities include,, and our justmeans job board!

Career advancement in nonprofits - In their 2010 strategic report, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) cited that 45% of YNPN members that completed the survey intended to move away from the nonprofit sector for their next responsible career move.  Some of the reasons for their intention to move sectors included low wages and burnout.  But the main reason cited by 70% of respondents was the lack of visible career advancement opportunities in the non-profit sector.  Similar results were found by CommonGood Careers, which prompted them to create the Talent Initiative.  The Talent Initiative functions as a series of human capital development partnerships between CommonGood Careers and non-profit organizations who want to get better at providing a more visible responsible career ladder to future nonprofit leaders.

Based on these surveys and trends, responsible career opportunities in nonprofit are a great fit for those who love to be involved in a variety or projects, and for those who thrive under time and resource pressures.  In addition, success in nonprofit work is more likely for professionals who have an entrepreneurial spirit able to create their own on-the-job training opportunities or clearly articulate why participating in a conference or training would benefit the nonprofit they work for.  Finally, as the career growth opportunities are less visible in the nonprofit sector, successful nonprofit leaders heavily rely on their network to identify and compete for their next responsible career opportunity.  If that sounds like you, the nonprofit sector might be the best field for you!

As you are exploring responsible career opportunities across sectors, please let me know what topics you would like to see discussed in this section and Cynthia and I will do our best to address your questions!

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