Career Watch: The Nonprofit Sector
There are numerous public health jobs available in the nonprofit sector—both domestically, at the local, state, and national levels, and globally. Most jobs in the nonprofit sector are about the good of the population you're working with and not for the benefit of a company. If a nonprofit agency does happen to make a profit, it goes right back into the agency. Some nonprofits pay good salaries, but not all. Even with nonprofits that pay well, staff members often work because of love, not money. Often, the bigger the agency, the better the salary, and the more stable the job.
The nonprofit sector is highly action-oriented—you get hands-on experience in making a difference. Frequently you have to wear multiple hats: fundraiser, manager, grant writer, volunteer coordinator, etc. In general, nonprofit jobs aren't nine-to-five—your job doesn't necessarily end when you walk out the door. But that's also part of doing what you love. As with any job, the higher your rank, the more you can dictate your own schedule, and the more hours you put in above and beyond the scheduled work week. For the most part, full-time jobs in the nonprofit world come with benefits, but those can be limited, and increasingly you have to help pay for them. Few nonprofits match retirement savings. Although the pay can be low, nonprofit work in general allows you to stay true to your core values.
Job possibilities include health educators, executive directors, program directors, grant writers, data coordinators, volunteer coordinators, general educators, and COOs. There are ample opportunities in development and public relations. Some nonprofit jobs involve conducting university-based research that's linked to, or in partnership with, community-based organizations. Service on boards of directors is a huge part of nonprofit work, and not remunerative. When it comes to boards, don't take on more than you can do, because it's not helpful to the nonprofits or to yourself.
Nonprofit work entails a wide variety of skills. Basic computer skills—including social media, databases, and electronic recordkeeping—are essential, as are basic research and evaluation skills. Both written and verbal communication skills and a grasp of finances and budgeting are crucial. You need to be a good manager, to be able to supervise people, including volunteers. Interpersonal skills are huge, as nonprofit work tends to be highly team-oriented, and collaboration is essential. Cultural competence is very important, especially when it comes to community partnerships. Many nonprofits deal with controversial issues like birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, so you need to understand different kinds of cultures—not just racial and sexual, but religious, socioeconomic, political, and generational.
"The goal of public health is to make the world as healthy as possible, and to me, nonprofit work is really about making the world a better place, and about making sure that everyone has opportunities."
—Nicole Adelman, MPH '95, Executive Director, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County (MI); former Vice President of Education, Training and Outreach, Planned Parenthood, Mid and South Michigan; Director of Prevention Programs, HIV/AIDS Resource Center, Ypsilanti, MI; Health Educator, The Corner Health Center, Ypsilanti, MI
To Learn More
New: Helping Nonprofits Make a Difference
Michigan Nonprofit Association: Serving nonprofits to advance their missions
University of Michigan Nonprofit and Public Management Center: Practical Insight for Future Leaders