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What Do You Study in College to Work in a Non-Profit Organization?

by Maggie McCormick

Working hard to save the world is a noble cause, but it doesn't always have a traditional career path to follow, like becoming a scientist or teacher would have. Nonprofit organizations receive money through grants and fundraising and use this money to support their work, not to turn a profit. Since there's no straightforward path to working for a nonprofit, you can find the college path that fits best with your future interest in nonprofits, whether that's running the show or selling the nonprofit idea to potential donors.

Business Management

The day-to-day operations of nonprofits are similar to those of businesses. Studying business in college will help you learn how to manage any type of business, helping to put you in a position to work for any kind of nonprofit. You can focus your course selections on area within business that interest you the most. For example, marketing or communications may help if you hope to work in membership or fundraising for a nonprofit organization, while a focus studying human resources practices can help you learn to manage the people of any organization.

Nonprofit Management

Some colleges offer programs specifically focused on nonprofit management. Typically, these are graduate level programs, although you may be able to find such a specialty at the undergraduate level. In the program, you'll learn about managing funds, analyzing data, communications and general business management, using case studies that focus on nonprofit organizations.

Liberal Arts

According to Career Services at the University of Vermont, nonprofit organizations look for people who have good written and verbal communication skills, event planning skills and budget preparation skills. These are all skills you might build through a liberal arts degree, such as English or Philosophy. Although employers care more about the skills you have than what you majored in, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you could still match your major to the type of nonprofit in which you hope to work. For instance, a sociology major might fit in well with an urban development nonprofit, while a political science major might be a good fit for a legal nonprofit.

Internships

Hands-on work experience can help you get your foot in the door at a nonprofit organization. Many colleges offer academic credit for internships with local nonprofit organizations. For example, if you want to work at a nonprofit that supports women, you might look for internships at a battered women's shelter or a women's health clinic; if you're interested in pro bono legal nonprofits, you might work for a lawyer or an advocacy group with a mission you believe in.

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