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Education Requirements and Suggestions for Working in the Nonprofit Field

Bureau of Labor Statistics

December 02, 2009

The types of jobs and skills required for advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations vary with the type and size of the organization. But all organizations need individuals with strong communication and fundraising skills, because they must constantly mobilize public support for their activities. Creativity and initiative are important as many workers are responsible for a wide range of activities, such as creating new events designed to communicate and sell an organizations goals and objectives. Basic knowledge about accounting, finance, management, information systems, advertising, and marketing provide an important advantage for those trying to enter the advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations industry. In some cases, a second language may be needed for jobs that involve international activities. The highly competitive industry also needs individuals who have adequate technical skills to efficiently operate and maintain their computer systems.

There are many ways that a person can enter the advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations industry. One way to prepare for a job is to gain experience as a volunteer. Volunteering allows a person to try out an organization to see if he or she likes it, to make good contacts in the industry, and to demonstrate a commitment to a cause. Volunteer work can be found through career and guidance counselors at high schools and colleges, as they often maintain a database of opportunities. County libraries and governments often have lists of opportunities as well. Many local schools and community groups also can identify organizations that need volunteers. The Internet is another good way to find volunteer openings. Paid work also can prepare job seekers for advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations. Many professionals in the industry began their careers in for-profit business. Many organizations need marketing or technological expertise and often hire someone from the for-profit sector-especially if that person has volunteer experience.

As of 2006, more than 250 colleges and universities offered courses on the management of nonprofit organizations. In addition, about 70 programs offered noncredit courses in fundraising and nonprofit management and more than 50 programs offered continuing education courses. About 119 schools offered at least one course for undergraduate credit and more than 90 were affiliated with American Humanics (an alliance of colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations preparing undergraduates for careers with youth and human service agencies).

In 2006, there were more than 90 master’s degree programs, usually in business administration or in public administration, with a focus on nonprofit or philanthropic studies. About 160 colleges and universities had at least one course related to management of nonprofits within a graduate department. Of these programs, more than 110 offered a graduate degree with a concentration in the management of nonprofit organizations and about 40 offered one or two graduate courses, usually in financial management and generic nonprofit management.

Management, business, and financial occupations. The formal education and experience of chief executives or executive directors varies as widely as the nature of their responsibilities. There are many ways to prepare for the job of running an advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organization. Most paid executive directors in large organizations have graduate degrees, often in business or public administration, some specifically in nonprofit management. Some executive directors start their careers in other positions, such as fundraiser or communications director. Others start on the program side of an organization, offering services directly to the public. They might be teachers, health care workers, ecologists, or another type of professional. Accountants and auditors need a good understanding of business computer systems and some hands-on knowledge of accounting software. An accounting or finance degree with some management course work or a business administration degree with some accounting course work is a good background to have. A master of business administration or other advanced degree may be desirable for more senior positions. The certified nonprofit accounting professional (CNAP) accreditation also provides the additional credibility needed in some larger organizations. Social community service managers need a bachelor’s degree. They must possess knowledge of principles and procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, training, compensation and benefits, labor relations and negotiation, and personnel information systems.

Professional and related occupations. A bachelor’s degree usually is not required to work as a social and human service assistant. However, employers increasingly seek individuals with relevant work experience or education beyond high school. Certificates or associate degrees in subjects such as social work, human services, gerontology, or one of the social or behavioral sciences meet most employers’ requirements. Employers try to select applicants who have effective communication skills, a strong sense of responsibility, and the ability to manage time effectively. Employers usually provide on-the-job training, often in the form of seminars and workshops, to prepare employees for particular position. Formal education almost always is necessary for advancement. In general, advancement requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in human services, counseling, rehabilitation, social work, or a related field. There are no defined standards for entry into a public relations career. A college degree combined with public relations experience, usually gained through an internship, is considered excellent preparation for public relations work. People who choose public relations as a career need an outgoing personality, self-confidence, an understanding of human psychology, and an enthusiasm for motivating people. Many public relations specialists advance to become directors of development or fundraisers. Directors of development find the money and other gifts needed to keep the organizations operations thriving. For self-enrichment teachers working in the advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations industry, a college degree that encompasses education or human resources courses and general business courses is good preparation. Opportunities for advancement as a self-enrichment teacher vary from State to State and program to program. They may advance to administrative positions, or experienced self-enrichment teachers may mentor new instructors and volunteers. Educational requirements for teacher assistants vary by State or school district and range from a high school diploma to some college training, although employers increasingly prefer applicants with some college training. Teacher assistants must have good writing skills and be able to communicate effectively with students and teachers. Advancement for teacher assistants—usually in the form of higher earnings or increased responsibility—comes primarily with experience or additional education.

Office and administrative support occupations. Office and administrative support occupations in the advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations industry generally require a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, many employers prefer those who have familiarity or experience with computers. Good interpersonal skills also are becoming increasingly important to employers. Some employers may require previous office or business experience. Those who exhibit strong communication, interpersonal, and analytical skills may be promoted to supervisory positions. Advancement to professional occupations within an organization normally requires additional formal education, such as a college degree. While most workers receive on-the-job training, executive secretaries and administrative assistants acquire skills in various ways. Training ranges from high school vocational education programs that teach office skills and keyboarding to 1-year and 2-year programs in office administration offered by business schools, vocational-technical institutes, and community colleges.

Service occupations. Some service workers in the advocacy, grantmaking, and civic organizations industry, such as waiters and waitresses and janitors, don’t require any formal education and are trained on the job. Opportunities for advancement for waiters and waitresses are limited, but those workers who excel at their work can become food service managers. Food service managers supervise the work of cooks; they plan meals and oversee food safety. Educational requirements for recreation and fitness workers range from a high school diploma to a graduate degree for some administrative positions in large public recreation systems. Recreation and fitness workers need managerial skills in order to advance to supervisory or managerial positions. College courses in management, business administration, accounting, and personnel management are helpful for advancement to supervisory or managerial jobs. Most States require that security guards be licensed. Some security guards may advance to supervisor or security manager positions. Guards with management skills may open their own contract security guard agencies.