What kinds of chemistry jobs are available at nonprofits?

Scientific nonprofit organizations work to improve the common good of society, usually through humanitarian, charitable, and educational means. The revenue generated by these types of organizations is used to serve the mission of the organization.

Nonprofit organizations vary in size and scope, and run the gamut from all-volunteer grassroots organizations to multi-million dollar research foundation with thousands of employees.

Many chemistry professionals who work in the nonprofit sector have jobs similar to their counterparts who work for for-profit businesses, in such as accounting and finance, research, management, communications, administration, and information technology. Others take on roles that are unique to nonprofit organizations, such as grant writers and administrators, science policy advocates, fundraisers, and outreach coordinators.

Scientific nonprofit groups can include:

  • Professional associations, such as ACS and the American Association of Chemistry Teachers, which provide membership, products, and services to individuals and are governed by bylaws and directed by officers who are also members.
  • Advocacy groups working for social change, such as Chemists without Borders, Union of Concerned Scientists, AIDSfreeAFRICA, and The Nature Conservancy
  • Private foundations, such as the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provide philanthropy, such as grants, to other nonprofit groups or individuals.
  • Cultural organizations, such as museums, zoos, and aquariums.

Nonprofit Salaries & Funding

The biggest difference between working in industry and in a nonprofit is that in industry, the ultimate goal is to make a profit. For nonprofits, the goal is to use funding resources to have a positive impact on the world. 

In addition, nonprofits may have fewer resources than for-profit companies, which can translate to less money for salaries, office space, training and equipment.

Larger nonprofits are often well funded, but many smaller nonprofits tend to be understaffed. Depending on the organization you work for, your job description might include additional duties and functions than your counterparts in industry.

Salaries in the nonprofit sector vary widely. Many organizations pay competitive salaries and benefits so that they can attract the most qualified staff members. When nonprofits can’t afford to pay high salaries, they often try to make up for it by offering excellent benefits, such as flexible hours and generous vacation time. But this, too, varies by organization.

Finding the Right Fit

If you are interested in working in the nonprofit sector, think about which social causes or missions ignite your passions, then do your research. Study the trends and issues associated with those areas and research related organizations.

Once you identify the organizations that most interest you:

  • Read each organization’s mission statement, which usually posted on their websites. Do you agree with the organization’s mission? Are you passionate about its work?
  • Scan each organization’s annual report for clues about its financial health and how the organization achieves its mission.

Getting Started in the Nonprofit Sector

For the most part, hiring practices in the nonprofit sector are similar to those in industry. However, in addition to screening potential job candidates for experience, skills and talents, nonprofit organizations also usually look employees who are passionate about the organization’s mission. 

Applying to Nonprofit Jobs

Typically, nonprofit jobs in chemistry are advertised on individual organizations’ websites, through C&EN Jobs, Indeed.com, LinkedIn, Monster.com, and other places where industry jobs are advertised, and on sites dedicated to nonprofit jobs, such as Idealist.org.

When you find a position that interests you:

  • Tailor your resume to show how your experience and knowledge relates to the position.
  • Your cover letter should mention your passion and interest for the work the organization does, and you should be ready to expand upon these during your interview.
  • You can set up informational interviews by contacting people within your personal network or on LinkedIn to find people who work for the organization.
  • When you go on an interview, take your resume, discuss your experience, and ask for leads and suggestions for possible next steps.


Because many nonprofit organizations depend on volunteers to help them achieve their mission, another way that people obtain experience and find jobs within these organizations is by volunteering to lend your expertise.

Opportunities for involvement can range from one-day projects to short-term programs or events, and long-term commitments. Responsibilities are varied and can include public outreach, clerical support, event management, working on a committee, or serving as an officer in a local chapter.

Through your volunteer efforts, you will build a network with nonprofit staff and hiring managers, and other volunteers who share your interests. 


If you are passionate about science and equally passionate about helping people, giving back to your community or otherwise improving the world, working in the nonprofit sector may be the best option for you. Begin by identifying your passions and interests. Research related organizations and begin pursuing volunteer and entry-level employment opportunities.

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