Nonprofit Industry Guide

Many terms are used when referring to the nonprofit sector. These names include third sector, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), charitable sector, social impact, and philanthropic sector. Common characteristics of the nonprofit sector include:

  • The organizations are mission-driven.
  • They are self-governing and have an organizational structure that includes a board, volunteers, donors, and staff members.
  • They are independent and private.
  • They exist to benefit the public.

Nonprofits address issues and focus on providing services in areas such as:

  • Advocacy and community development
  • Animal welfare
  • Arts, culture, and humanities
  • Business, professional, and trade associations
  • Education
  • Environment and conservation
  • Foundations, grant-making organizations, and philanthropy
  • Health and science
  • Human/social services
  • Religious organizations

Investigate Options

To discover what opportunities exist for the careers you’re considering, make time to learn about work that aligns with your interests. Take time to both expand your options and narrow your list as you learn more. You’ll be taking into account the things you know about yourself that influence you as you explore various career paths.

Resources for learning more about careers

Career Exploration Tools

  • O*NET and Occupational Outlook Handbook – Search for and learn career information including professional environments, salaries, used skills, and educational requirements.
  • What can I do with this major? – Connects academic majors to possible career paths, typical employers, and strategies designed to maximize career opportunities.

Examples of career opportunities in the nonprofit sector

Nonprofits design their positions based on the size of their organization and the needs of the populations they serve. In addition to the roles listed below, larger nonprofits often have communication staff, financial managers, and research or evaluation staff. See The Bridgespan Group for a guide that provides information on nonprofit/social sector job titles, as well as Net Impact to learn more about career options w/in nonprofit sector.


News sources and books help you stay abreast of current news, changes and developments in your career areas of interest. Examples include:

Professional Organizations provide excellent resources for students, ranging from career development resources and student memberships to job and internship postings. Examples include:


Conducting research can be a great way to get involved on campus, explore a specific academic topic, and work closely with faculty members and graduate students. The Undergraduate Research Support Office offers resources for getting involved in research both on campus and at other institutions- check out the “opportunities” page to explore options.

Research positions are often secured through identifying research currently occurring at Duke or elsewhere and reaching out to faculty members directly. Consider looking at the work of faculty members, and identifying funding for research opportunities through the Office of Research Support Funding.

Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action
A U.S.-based, national and international association that connects scholars, teachers, and practice leaders interested in research on nonprofit organizations, voluntary action, philanthropy and civil society

      A few specific research programs available at Duke

Internships are short-term opportunities for you to get experience in a particular sector of the health and life sciences. Many companies and organizations have formal, well-defined internship experiences, but you may find a valuable experience that doesn’t have internship for a title. Excellent resources to begin your search for positions include:

    A nonprofit resource that includes internships, jobs, and volunteer opportunities
  • Internship Series Online
    3000+ organizations offering internships and summer jobs for students
  • Handshake
    Duke’s source for internship and full-time job postings

Events are held on campus with various employers throughout the academic year. Check lists of employers attending to identify those who align with your interests in the nonprofit sector:

Job, Internship, and Fellowship Resources

Examples of employers who have hired Duke students interested in Nonprofits
(this is not a comprehensive list)

  • Johnson Service Corps
  • Net Impact
  • The Redwoods Group
  • The Pew Charitable Trusts
  • United Nations Population Fund
  • National Community Investment Fund
  • Doorways to Dreams Fund
  • Village Volunteers
  • Change Corps
  • Institute for Emerging Issues
  • Move This World
  • Points of Light
  • Sierra Club
  • T. Howard Foundation
  • The Fund for the Public Interest
  • Prevention Partners
  • Organizing for America
  • Peace Corps
  • New Sector Alliance
  • FHI360

Student Organizations & Volunteer Opportunities can provide connections with others interested in similar career pursuits. Check out Duke Groups to find student organizations across campus such as:

DukeEngage offers a large number of summer programs, both domestic and abroad, which relate to service, policy, and community action