Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit Sector


The structure of individual nonprofits varies widely and depends on the goals of the organization, its size and number of employees, and its funding. Major nonprofits usually employ executive directors to lead the organization. Chief financial officers manage financial operations, directors of special events plan and manage events, and directors of volunteers create volunteer programs and recruit, train, and manage volunteers. Directors of membership manage membership services. Directors of development are charged with fund-raising and building the organization's resources, while corporate relations managers maintain relationships with supportive corporations. Major gifts officers solicit substantial donations from wealthy individuals or corporations, and prospect researchers look for prospective, new donors. Grant writers research and write proposals to solicit funding from government and private foundations. Directors of communications manage the group's public image. Marketing managers promote programs, events, services, and develop a recognizable brand. Directors of public affairs oversee public relations, which may include media relations, community relations, and public information. Publications managers oversee the writing, editing, design, printing, production, and mailing of newsletters, journals, membership directories, convention guides, and annual reports.

In general, nonprofits all engage in activities such as lobbying, professional and public education, public relations, establishing programs, offering public services, funding research and activities, issuing reports and publications, recruiting and retaining members, coordinating volunteers, and managing and investing donations and endowments.

Specific jobs also vary according to the specific work of a nonprofit. The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities, a system that the Internal Revenue Service and the National Center for Charitable Statistics uses, classifies nonprofits into 26 major groups, which are organized into 10 broad categories. Those categories are:

  1. Arts, Culture, and Humanities
  2. Education
  3. Environment and Animals
  4. Health
  5. Human Services
  6. International and Foreign Affairs
  7. Mutual Membership Benefit
  8. Public, Societal Benefit
  9. Religion Related
  10. Unknown, Unclassified*

*A temporary category until a group can be assigned to one of the other categories.

Arts, Culture, and Humanities

Work in this branch is generally concerned with supporting the arts and preserving cultural heritages. Museum educators develop educational programs, materials, and activities for all types of museums. Curators oversee and preserve the collections in museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and historic sites and plan and prepare the exhibits. Directors of visitor services manage everything related to the experience of visitors to an artistic or other cultural institution. Artistic directors, theater lead a theater as the primary person in charge of programming that creates, protects, and promotes the artistic mission of the theater. Business managers manage the financial, administrative, and business operations for a cultural or artistic institution. Reporters, public radio develop and deliver news and feature stories for a public radio station.


Many schools and educational institutions are nonprofits. Professors teach college classes, and admissions officers manage the enrollment of new students. Career counselors help students apply their education to a career. Student activities coordinators organize student clubs and associations, and financial aid directors manage scholarships and other aid to pay for tuition. Nonprofit organizations also exist to influence educational policy at the local, state, and national levels.

Environment and Animals

Naturalists work for parks and educate the public about the environment, wildlife, plants and geology of a particular region. Directors of conservation help conservation organizations develop and implement policies to preserve the environment. Outdoor instructors lead groups on wilderness trips that may include mountaineering, kayaking, or rafting. Park rangers protect the flora and fauna of national and state parks and educate and assure the safety of park visitors. Zoologists study the origins, behavior, and life cycles of animals both in their natural habitat and in the laboratory. Environmental activists promote environmental causes and work to influence public policy.


Health policy analysts research health policy issues, lobby and advocate about legislation on public health issues, and develop policy recommendations to influence worldwide health policy and public health practices. Health educators provide the public with information, education, and support about healthy behaviors. Hospital administrators are the chief managers of health care facilities. Epidemiologists study and track the cause and nature of disease to control and prevent health problems. Laboratory technicians research disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Nutritionists plan meals for organizations and advise individuals about healthy eating.

Human Services

Social workers help people identify and overcome social and health problems and work with communities and organizations to improve social services. Social work is one of the most diverse fields in the nonprofit sector. Social workers can have expertise in a wide variety of areas, such as child welfare, child protection, mental health, substance abuse, criminal justice, homeless issues, policy and administration, and new program development. Program directors manage programs for a social service agency. They supervise staff and oversee specific program areas such as domestic violence, homeless services, or substance abuse. Rehabilitation counselors help people cope with the personal, social, and vocational effects of disabilities. Human service workers assist a variety of human service professionals to care for people in need. Public interest lawyers provide free legal services to clients who cannot afford representation, represent nonprofit organizations, or work for public interest groups on specific advocacy issues.

International and Foreign Affairs

This category may include groups working to better international understanding, build bridges between nations, bring aid to troubled nations or regions, or achieve peace among conflicting nations or cultures. Peace workers strive to eliminate violence and promote world peace through research, education, and advocacy. They may specialize in different areas of foreign policy, working for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the United Nations or specific ethnic groups or regions. Human rights activists work to promote and protect international human rights through policy, programming, advocacy, research, and education. Directors of international activities oversee international relationships, projects, and programs for an international nonprofit. International aid workers perform humanitarian work around the globe in times of disaster and conflict. International educators advise foreign students in the United States, help U.S. students study and work abroad, administer language programs in other countries, and create educational programs in developing nations. Translators/interpreters convert written, oral, or sign language into another language.

Mutual Membership Benefit

Groups in this category tend to be professional associations and lobbying organizations, or any group organized primarily to benefit the interests of its membership, such as workers in an industry. They are likely to employ directors of government relations as liaisons between the group and the local, state, and federal government. Directors of education are responsible for professional development and implementing educational programming and professional development opportunities for members. Directors of component relations provide support and leadership to the subgroups including chapters, councils, sections, special interest groups, and societies. Professional journals are the academic cornerstone of many nonprofit organizations, and journal editors review and edit submissions to the organization's publications.

Public, Societal Benefit

This category includes foundations, grant-making organizations, and philanthropic groups. These NPOs are concerned with charitable endeavors. Their aim is to improve society, which they pursue through advocacy, public education, and issuing grants to support research or programs that further their goal. In such outfits program officers review and recommend grant proposals for funding and program directors supervise and make decisions regarding grant proposals. Investment professionals manage the financial resources and endowment for private foundations and invest to safeguard the future of the foundation. Grants administrators oversee the centralized processing of grants, but at most large foundations they are not involved in the decisions about awarding grants. Grassroots organizers help their organization achieve its mission by educating, motivating, and mobilizing local constituents. Lobbyists advocate for issues and persuade politicians to vote on legislation t