• Nonprofit Word Cloud

Nonprofit Sector Overview

As opposed to government (public sector) and business (private or for-profit sector), the nonprofit sector in the United States is comprised of organizations that are principally driven by a social mission, and do not make a profit from the work that they do. Nonprofit organizations are also commonly known as NGOs (non-governmental organizations).

The nonprofit sector encompasses many different types of organizations, and because of this, it is difficult to present a comprehensive resource on working and interning in this “third sector.”  In the tabs below, we have attempted to present broad considerations and the unique opportunities when exploring the possibility of working/interning/volunteering for a nonprofit organization.

For more assistance with your personal interests in this sector, please make an appointment with our Career and Internship Communities Specialist.


What Is a Nonprofit?

What is a Nonprofit?

The nonprofit sector is comprised of organizations working towards bettering or addressing a certain issue and/or need as defined by each organization’s mission statement.  The Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University has conducted research on nonprofits and developed the following list of characteristics for nonprofit organizations:

  • Institutionalized to some extent;
  • Institutionally separate from government;
  • Non-profit-distributing (not returning profits generated to their owners or directors);
  • Self-governing (able to control their own activities); and
  • Voluntary (non-compulsory and involving some meaningful degree of voluntary participation)
  • Not all nonprofits are charities.

Types of nonprofits

In the United States, as recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) there are three main types of nonprofit organizations (note: there are 29 types of organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c). Each type of organization is exempt from certain taxes because of the contributions it makes to the community.

  • 501(c)(3) – The majority of nonprofits are in this category. They must show broad public support. Donations are tax-deductible; Common examples include private foundations and charitable nonprofits. Research them on sites such as Charity Navigator and GuideStar
  • 501(c)(4) – They perform advocacy/lobbying work, ostensibly designed to promote social welfare causes (e.g., AARP). These groups are allowed to to participate in politics, so long as politics do not become their primary focus; meaning they must spend less than 50 percent of their money on politics. Donations to these orgs is not tax-deductible
  • 501(c)(6) – This includes professional and trade associations, chambers of commerce, trade boards, real estate boards, and even NFL teams (so long as they don't generate a profit for their members). Donations to these groups is not tax-deductible.

Understanding Nonprofit Job Titles

Common corporate or
government job titles

Common Nonprofit
job titles



Administrative Assistant 

Board Administrator


Community Manager

Event planner

Community Organizer




Grant Writer


Outreach Coordinator

Programmer/web developer

Program Coordinator


Program Director


Volunteer Manager

Additional resources to help you learn more about the nonprofit sector:

  • Watch a 3 minute video
  • Read articles about the tips and tricks for breaking into the sector
  • Learn about the recent increase in different kinds of organizations working for social change, such as Hybrid Companies, Benefit Corporations, and more
  • Follow sector career trends
  • Blue Avacado - a nonprofit online magazine for community nonprofits
  • Guidestar - the world's largest source of information on nonprofit organization. Rates and ranks nonprofits and highlights how well they execute their stated mission
  • Independent Sector - A "think tank" devoted to looking at issues affecting nonprofits, foundations, and corporations committed to advancing the common good
  • Making a Difference - through volunteering and nonprofit careers
  • National Council of Nonprofits - Another think tank and a trusted resource and advocate for America’s charitable nonprofits



Getting Experience Through Volunteering/Internships


Through Volunteering/Internships


Download this free book:  The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers

Also read:  How to Turn a Volunteer Gig Into A Job

When should you start looking for internships or volunteer experiences?

The nonprofit sector, much like government, doesn't have a "hiring season." Much of the hiring in nonprofits takes place ad hoc (as needed). One of the first things you should do is to connect with the Morgridge Center on campus. They have a lot of knowledge about local nonprofits and a great database.


Start the search for organizations you might like to intern with anywhere from 6-8 months before you hope to intern.  This will give you time to network with alums through LinkedIn or Badger Bridge. It will also give you enough time to narrow down your interests and discern which skills you'd like to build through the internship. Most will probably be unpaid, so remember to seek out scholarships that may help you fund your internship.

Try to build time into your schedule to find internship opportunities

Click here for Government, Politics or Policy internships.

Get Professional Guidance - Take Inter LS 260, a one-credit, on-line course offered to all students regardless of major or year in school each Fall, Spring, and Summer


There are plenty of places to volunteer in the Madison community

Globally Focused?  Check out UW Madison’s International Internship Program and internships on Public Service Careers

Meet local employers at the Public Service Fair (held fall and spring semesters)


The general rule of thumb would be to make formal applications about 30-90 days before you hope to start work, but your networking should start much, much sooner. As above, start networking 6 months to several years before you hope to start.  The nonprofit world - especially at the entry level - lives on personal recommendations.  And you need to be known to be recommended. In addition to LinkedIn and Badger Bridge, also consider joining YNPN and/or AFP (see the networking tab) to begin getting connected to nonprofit work in the Madison area and beyond.


Idealist is the closest thing you'll find to a nonprofit careers homepage. This is THE place to find and learn about specific nonprofit organizations that focus on issues you care about, read blogs about the nonprofit sector, find internship and job postings nation- and worldwide, and so much more     

Community Shares of Wisconsin - A wide range of local orgs, many near campus, with great opportunities to gain skills in advocacy, direct service, grant writing, and more

Student Conservation Association - The SCA is a fantastic organization that motivates and deploys thousands of young people who care passionately about improving the natural world. They intern in national parks and public lands and urban green spaces to make improvements and learn conservation and sustainability practices. They learn how to plan, enact, and lead, all while making a tangible impact in conservation


Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) - The CNCS is a federal entity that helps more than 5 million Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service and sponsors the following programs (among many others)        

Teaching Fellows - Similar to Teach for America but not affiliated with CNCS, this program focuses on some of America's toughest cities/states


NPO.net - Non profit job and internship listings esp for northern IL and southern WI

Public Service Careers - Source for jobs in nonprofits and the public sector

Bridgespan - This site is dedicated to advancing your career and involvement in the nonprofit sector


Additional Resources at University of Wisconsin - Madison

Community & Nonprofit Leadership Major for Undergraduates

LaFollette School for Public Affairs

Morgridge Center for Public Service

L&S Career Services Internships Resources

L&S Career Services Government Resources


GoinGlobal - Access through your BuckyNet account



Your Nonprofit Resume

Your Nonprofit Resume

Developing your resume

To market your unique skills in the nonprofit sector, consider the following:

  • What are your strengths in the following key areas: people, resources, information, and systems
  • How are your skills from being an undergraduate student transferrable?
  • When developing your resume, use the language of the nonprofit sector and the job description of the job you are applying for

Skills Matrix

Below is a matrix that you can use to assess how your skills match a job description you are interested in applying for. Use this format as a way of mapping out your “transferable skills” or your strengths, abilities, & accomplishments as a way of ensuring you are able to make the connection from what you have already done to the skills described in the job description.

Whenever possible, present your accomplishments in numerical terms, using percentages, monetary amounts, and numbers of clients served. Numbers jump off the page and help an overwhelmed potential hirer see your worth quickly and quantifiably.

You'll find some great examples in this blog post on the Four Elements of a Tailored Resume


Skills (acquired through previous volunteer or paid work or class projects)   What did you do? (specifics)  How did you do it? (what skill sets did you use?) Why did you do it? (what was the broader purpose?)   What were the results? (quantifiable) 

 Example: research



 Example: promotion



What if you haven't had a lot of professional work experience?

  • Highlight your time in college - even a class project
  • Think of all the different skill sets you have developed as a busy student. You’ve researched and written reports, you’ve worked in labs and followed different laboratory protocols, you’ve joined student organizations, you’ve planned events
  • Get some experience by visiting the Morgridge Center or Volunteer Your Time to learn about volunteering opportunities in local nonprofits

For resume and cover letter samples visit our Resume and Cover Letter page

Also see a sample resume




Working Internationally for Nonprofits

Working Internationally for Nonprofits

Maybe you have dreams of working overseas for a nonprofit, or non-governmental organization (NGO). Unless you are able to volunteer right after graduating, finding actual paid employment with these types of organizations is difficult - unless you’ve planned ahead and/or have friends or relatives who can give you a helping hand. Resources available to you at UW-Madison, while you are still a student:

Additional Resources:

L&S Career Services handouts:

Helpful Websites:





Gap Years and Other Post-Grad Options

After graduation, consider taking a "gap year"

Service Year - allows you to search for paid programs that provide anywhere from several months to a year or more of service

USA Gap Year Fairs - Can help you get a sense of the range of opportunities available

A PDF of year of service programs that other UW students have done in the past

Government Sponsored Programs  - With these you can typically expect a stipend that covers living and travel expenses, as well as loan deferment and possible loan forgiveness, as part of the benefits package. Examples of such programs include:    

For more information on careers in public service visit PublicServiceCareers.org or the UW - Madison Government, Politics and Policy webpage




Nonprofit Networking in Madison and Beyond

Connect With Nonprofit Networks

  • Young Nonprofit Professionals Network - is committed to providing the investment needed to help young nonprofit professionals be successful in the nonprofit sector. This is a fantastic way for students to meet and network with young professionals in the nonprofit community
  • Association of Fundraising Professionals - Develops fundraising professionals, advances the profession, and inspires a culture of philanthropy in our communities.
  • 100 State - An incubator for creative entrepreneurs. 100 State creates a community and home for problem­ solvers, creatives, and entrepreneurs to hone their craft

  • Habitat Young Professionals of Dane County - The mission of HYP is to enrich Habitat for Humanity of Dane County's partnerships by providing opportunities for young professionals to volunteer, advocate, and network with other positively minded young professionals
  • Magnet - Was founded in 2004 to unite talented young professionals from Madison, WI and its surrounding areas. They focus on three main pillars: Community Involvement, Professional Development, and Social/Networking
  • Urban League YP - The Urban League Young Professionals is a volunteer auxiliary of community leaders ages 21-40 who work to empower communities and change lives through the Urban League Movement
  • United Way of Dane County Rosenberry Society - Is made up of people like you: young professionals who are motivated to effect big change in the community
  • CONNECT Madison - An invitation or nomination based young professionals group in Madison, Wisconsin
  • MadCity Rotary -  Members participate in a local service project and get together for a club social event
  • Latino Professionals Association- Madison - Cultivating a community that empowers Latino Professionals to pursue and attain success