Common Professional Roles within the Nonprofit Sector

Common Professional Roles within the Nonprofit Sector

Direct Service:

  • Many social impact organizations carry out their mission through professionals who work directly with the populations that the organization aims to serve. These roles, also known as “direct service” positions, include teachers, advisors, counselors/therapists, and social workers in a number of organizations like schools, nonprofit organizations, and governmental agencies.
  • Direct service roles are great for those who enjoy communicating and getting to know others in order to help them achieve their goals.

Program Management and Coordination:

  • Many social impact and nonprofit organizations address issues by developing and implementing programs in the community. In order for these programs to be successful, many organizations employ program managers, coordinators, or assistants who can oversee the day-to-day and larger goals of the program.
  • These behind the scenes roles typically handle the logistical aspects of running a program including managing or supervising those who carry out the program and evaluating the success of the programs.
  • Program management and coordination roles are great for those who enjoy training and mentoring others and coming up with and implementing creative solutions and ideas.

Communications and Marketing:

  • These roles are tasked with telling the story of an organization, issue or cause. They include roles such as social media manager, marketing assistant, communications coordinator, and graphic designer. These roles garner support for the organization’s cause, engage volunteers, and help raise money to support the organization’s mission.
  • These are great roles for those who enjoy communicating through the written word or enjoy exploring how creative media can be used to promote a cause or organization.


  • Most nonprofit and social impact organizations rely on donations in order to accomplish their goals. Through fundraising, also known as development, professionals secure the monetary resources that make the nonprofit’s programs possible. These positions help connect the nonprofit to individuals and organizations that want to use their resources to support causes and issues they believe in.  Development professionals work on a wide spectrum from behind the scenes roles like data managers and grantwriters to donor-facing roles that interact directly with individuals who are interested in supporting an organization.
  • These are great roles for those who enjoy connecting people, writing and communicating persuasively, who want to bring together like-minded individuals or who are systems-minded and enjoy organizing and analyzing information.

Public Policy/Law:

  • Many liberal arts students are drawn to roles in public policy because of their interest in engaging with the most prominent issues and ideas that affect our society. This desire to work on systemic issues is a positive reflection of the skills that are taught in the liberal arts classroom.
  • Public policy roles are typically held by individuals who have attained some level of mastery or expertise around specific policy-related issues. Accordingly, these roles typically require further education and in depth professional experience in the issue area. From governmental roles to opportunities within nonprofit organizations to private sector consultants, these roles interact with national, statewide, and city-level policy decisions through people-facing and behind the scenes roles.
  • Alumni engage in law and public policy through a wide range of professional roles: law student, evaluator for the Minnesota Legislative Auditor and an urban planner for a private consulting firm that works with various governmental entities.