Career Center


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. [1]

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[2]

Know Yourself

The most important part of your career development process is understanding your values, interests, skills, personality, motivations, and what you have learned from each of your unique experiences. To determine what kind of work you might want to do, you want to continually examine what drives you. By reflecting on each of these pieces, you can get clues about occupations that fit you best.

A good place to start

  • Review the Self-Inquiry Guide to begin learning more about your skills, knowledge, and interests
  • You can schedule an appointment with a career adviser to have a conversation about your career questions and ideas.
  • To develop a sense of the type of nonprofit that will target your career interests, use the Four Lenses Framework.

TIP: Talk with (or develop) your Board of Directors those individuals who know you well and could also reflect back to you strengths, patterns, etc. that you may not realize about yourself. This information can be part of your discovery process, too!

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.

TIP: Research Duke departmental websites for more extensive career-related information according to specific majors of interest.

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:

TIP: Search out professional organizations in career clusters of interest to learn more about career options, mentoring opportunities, recent news and research, and more.

Learn from other Dukies:

  • Reach out to Duke alumni through LinkedIn and the Duke Alumni Network LinkedIn Group to have a discussion about career paths, companies, and jobs.
  • More experienced Duke students are great resources for learning about opportunities, finding positions, and networking with other Duke alumni.

Understand Experience

Once you investigate options, now it’s time to gain experience, and any experience counts! Ask yourself what you want to learn, and pursue opportunities that lead to self-discovery. Test your interests by taking action.

Paid experience is the only type of experience that counts when testing out interests.
ALL experience counts as possible ways to explore your interests and develop skills. Think about both specific skills developed in a particular environment and transferable skills that you can invest in a variety of places and situations.

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


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
  • CareerConnections
    Duke’s source for internship and full-time job postings

Search Strategically

Now that you’ve gained experience through talking with others and getting career experience, it’s time to prepare. Your search strategy includes integration, reflection, and action. Effective search strategy is built upon elements of self-inquiry, career research, networking, and sharing your story and intentions with others. Review the Search Strategically section of our website for more information.

Networking is a crucial part of an effective search—developing relationships with others:

Networking is something I won’t need to do if I am pursuing opportunities in the nonprofit sector.
Whether you are headed to professional school or nonprofit work, reaching out to those who are doing work of interest to you, or who may know of possible opportunities, is invaluable in your search and learning process.

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

If I don’t have an internship/a job secured by [fill in an early semester date] I will never find one.
Be aware that different industries—and companies and organizations within industries—operate on different hiring timelines and recruiting schedules. Not all health and life sciences companies will come to campus to recruit, but that doesn’t mean there are not positions available to Duke students at your company of interest!


Interviewing is a skill that is learned best through practice, and it’s never too early to get started. In addition the following online resources, consider asking your career adviser to schedule a mock interview to get feedback on how to build your interviewing skills.

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


[1] The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers

[2] The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers