Careers in the Non-Profit Sector

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of non-profits working on issues from the environment, to healthcare, to child welfare. These organizations may consist of one or two people, or may employ hundreds. They provide a variety of career opportunities for sociology majors.

Non-profits need people who are flexible and have diverse skills. While some non-profits are large, bureaucratic organizations, others are very small. In these small workplaces, employees must be generalists. A single individual might be responsible for maintaining a membership database, writing a quarterly newsletter, and updating the organization webpage. These organizations require people who are versatile, can solve problems, and who can work on different kinds of tasks.

One type of job in non-profit organizations is grass-roots organizing. Many non-profits are grass-roots organizations: they seek to motivate members of the public to take action on a particular issue. These groups need organizers, people who can help to develop a membership base, run telephone banks, and so forth. They need people who can engage others in the issue the non-profit is working on and get others involved.

An area in which demand is growing, and likely will continue to grow, is fund-raising (also known as development). Non-profits need to raise money in order to fulfill their mission. Without money, they cannot do their job. Non-profits will hire college graduates to work on development tasks such as helping to plan fund-raising events, running direct-mail campaigns or membership renewal campaigns, and so forth. These positions tend to have good upward mobility. As new employees become seasoned, develop skills, and demonstrate their abilities and good judgment, they can be  given more opportunities for increased direct donor contact and grant writing.

Communications positions are another option. Non-profits often lack people with good communication skills who can do outreach to the public and media. These positions require good writing and interpersonal skills.

In general, non-profits look for people who have demonstrated an interest in a social issue. This need not be the exact issue the non-profit works on, but applicants will be seen more favorably if they have shown commitment to something related.

Non-profits need reliable employees who are self-starters. In the non-profit world there is always more to be done than can possibly be completed. They want people who are willing and eager to work hard, be responsible, and pay attention to details. Employees who come into an organization and demonstrate reliability and good judgment will have opportunities for advancement.

How can a sociology major prepare you for these kinds of positions?

Sociology courses, our internship program, and the Sociology Club all provide opportunities for you to develop important skills and to demonstrate to potential non-profit employers that you have what they are looking for.

First, courses that focus on understanding human behavior and social interaction, as well as contemporary social issues, will provide good intellectual background. The Social Psychology (SOC 350) course  will help you understand human motivation and social interaction. Other courses can teach you about substantive areas. For example, if you are interested in health issues, you consider taking Medical Sociology (SOC 334).

Good grades, of course, will help to demonstrate to potential employers that you are responsible. Writing skills are always in demand for letters, webpages, and newsletters, so consider taking as many courses that emphasize writing as you can. You many want to consider minoring in English in order to improve your writing skills. In addition, our methods and statistics program will provide you with basic skills that non-profits looking for generalists are likely to value.

Second, our internship program provides the opportunity to obtain course credit for work experiences. Internships with non-profit organizations can be very, very important for opening doors in the non-profit world. Participating in an internship at a non-profit demonstrates interest, something non-profits care about. In addition, it allows you to demonstrate that you are reliable and have good judgment. Internship supervisors can provide recommendations to potential non-profit employers that will carry weight.

Third, the Sociology Club provides WSU students with the opportunity to get experience with activities like event planning. Club activities are student-driven and student-led. Event planning at this level has many similarities to even planning done by development personnel in non-profit organizations. Planning events, publicizing them, making arrangements for them, getting a good turn out; all of these are skills that a good development person needs. If you take advantage of these kinds of opportunities as an undergraduate student, you will be in a better position to demonstrate to potential employers that you have relevant experience and are responsible.