New to Nonprofits? Come check out our event on Thursday evening and learn more!

 Thinking about your post-GC career path? If you’re considering possibilities outside of academia, the nonprofit world could be a great fit for you. Come learn more at our Careers in Non-profits Panel this Thursday from 6:30-8pm! REGISTER HERE.

1.     Learning the Lingo:

A nonprofit is an organization that serves the public interest in some way. Nonprofits tend to be defined by their “mission,” which can be promoting education, eradicating poverty, pursuing scientific discovery, and everything in between. One thing that distinguishes nonprofits from other organizations is that because all financial profits go back into furthering the organization’s work, nonprofits are tax-exempt. Like all fields and industries, nonprofits also come with their own vocabularies. Below are some important terms to be comfortable with as you learn more about the nonprofit world.

Mission statement: An organization’s mission statement is like a paper’s abstract. Its purpose is to clearly and succinctly describe its important aspects. The mission statement is a brief overview of what makes a given nonprofit special, and much like a paper abstract does, seeks to differentiate it within its field. Elements can include an organization’s purpose (reason the organization is important in the world), goals (what specific outcomes it seeks to achieve and with what population), and core values (what makes the organization unique and special, what approaches or attitudes inform its work.)

Logic model: A logic model, also called a theory of change, is a graphical representation of all the steps a nonprofit takes in order to accomplish its mission. This includes identifying what resources it uses (called “inputs”), what activities it conducts, immediate outcomes and results from the activities, and also long-term changes and benefits in society and/or the population the nonprofit. This is called a logic model because the graphical representation demonstrates in a clear, distilled format the logical decision-making and rationale that inform how a nonprofit structures its program and process.

Strategic plan: A nonprofit strategic plan is like a logic model in that it lays out goals and commits to a process for achieving them. However, while a logic model focuses on how the nonprofit achieves its mission, a strategic plan sets in place specific goals and milestones for the future direction of the organization, often 5-10 years ahead. These milestones often include programmatic growth of the nonprofit (either in number of staff, amount of services being provided, or geographical area being served), but can also include goals such as increasing the size of the organization’s financial endowment or board of directors.

Development: In the nonprofit world, fundraising is referred to as “development”, and it is a major concern of all nonprofits big and small. Nonprofits rely on getting much of their funding through government grants, private and family foundations, and individual donors. Often, nonprofits will have an entire development department of fundraisers. They conduct the various “asks” their organization makes to supporters, such as an individual donation to a Capital Campaign (money being raised for an expensive specific goal, like a new building) or Major Gift, identify new potential supporters to cultivate, and are also skilled grant writers who solicit funds from grant-making organizations and the government.

2.     Pros and Cons of Nonprofits:

One great thing about joining a nonprofit is that you’ll be devoting your time and expertise to something that you believe matters. You’ll also likely be working alongside professionals who share your passion and commitment to the organization’s mission. Knowing you’re making a difference in the world around you can be a very inspiring way to spend your days.

The flip side to that (of course there always is one!) is that people working together to achieve a shared passion and who are committed to the “helping professions,” are also more vulnerable to burnout. For example, a 2008 survey of young nonprofit employees[i] revealed that 45% of respondents predicted that because of burnout and pay concerns, their next job would not be in a charity organization. Before you join a nonprofit, think about the role that work plays in your life. Does it help define who you are and act as an important outlet for your creativity, or does it play more of a background role, helping to support the other areas of your life?

3. Navigating Nonprofits:

If you’re still in the process of figuring these answers out, and want to get a taste of nonprofit culture without committing to a career, here are a few ways to try it out. Ask about internships or volunteer opportunities at nonprofits that are devoted to something you’re passionate about, and who will be able to apply the expertise you’ve gained in graduate school. Informational interviews at nonprofits are also a great, low-pressure way to start your search (more tips on how to go about it here: ).

Or, if all of your time is currently devoted to that last tricky dissertation chapter, but you still want to start gathering some ideas, check out these websites for information about the world of non-profits and what it’s like to work for one:







[i] National Leadership Conference of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, 2008