Chemistry Careers in Nonprofit Organizations

Are you passionate about science and equally driven to help people, giving back to your community or otherwise improve the world? If so, a career in the nonprofit sector might be the perfect choice for you. 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.

Scientific nonprofit groups can include:

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Meet Fatima Rivas

Fatima Rivas received her Ph.D. in organic chemistry and now works in the Chemical Biology & Therapeutics Department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Supporting St. Jude’s mission to find new treatments for cancer and catastrophic pediatric diseases, the Rivas laboratory isolates, characterizes, and synthesizes novel natural products from various natural sources.   

Approximately 9% of the American workforce is employed in the nonprofit sector. 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 non-profit organizations, such as grant writers and administrators, science policy advocates, fundraisers, and outreach coordinators.

The Financial Picture

The biggest difference between working in industry and in a non-profit 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. These organizations focus on many issues, including the advancement of science, environmental protection, scientific research, health care, education, international aid, disaster relief, and science policy.

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 non-profits 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.

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. Search the website for find job descriptions for entry-level positions. If the positions interest you, tailor your résumé to show how your experience and knowledge relates to the position. You can also 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 the interview, take your résumé, discuss your experience, and ask for leads, suggestions 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.  

Getting Hired

Typically, nonprofit jobs in chemistry are advertised online through C&EN Jobs, Indeed.com, LinkedIn, Monster.com, and other places where industry jobs are advertised – but there are also sites dedicated specifically to nonprofit job, such as Idealist, Commongood Careers, NonprofitOyster.com, and the NonProfit Job Center. Additionally, if you have a favorite cause, you can look at the careers section of websites of the groups affiliated with the cause.

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. 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.

Salaries

With the exception of some very small organizations that are run by volunteers, most nonprofit organizations are staffed by paid professionals. Many organizations depend on volunteers in addition to their paid staff, but others many don’t use volunteer help at all.

Salaries in the non-profit sector vary widely, but 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

Summary

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.

No matter which sector you choose, one of the best things you can do while still in school is to get as much laboratory experience as possible, preferably in a field similar to where you want to work after graduation. The specific type of experience you get doesn’t matter so much as making sure that you learn instrumentation, laboratory techniques, scientific calculations, problem solving, and so on. Take advantage of opportunities to learn and practice non-technical skills, such as written and oral communication, time management, leadership, and teamwork. There will be a lot of on-the-job training, but you will need to be capable of keeping your own schedule, keeping a good laboratory notebook, recording observations completely and accurately, storing data properly, communicating your work with others, and so on. All these skills will come in handy, no matter which sector ends up being right for you.

Careers in Nonprofit Organizations