Nonprofit tech jobs: Support a good cause

The nonprofit sector needs tech professionals. And nonprofit tech jobs can help you gain valuable skills while supporting a meaningful cause.
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor
Volunteers of all races, genders, and ages pass items from one table to a box on another table outdoors
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Nonprofit organizations work toward a mission. And nonprofits rely on technology to spread the word, provide services, and fundraise. That means they also rely on tech professionals. 

Small nonprofits need all-purpose IT professionals, while larger organizations hire software developers, data analysts, and web developers. 

Nonprofit tech jobs offer more than a line on your resume — they're also rewarding and meaningful. Working at a nonprofit can be a great way to advance your career while contributing to a good cause.

Nonprofits need tech professionals

Nonprofits rely on volunteers, coordinators, fundraisers, and directors to serve their cause. And they also need tech professionals. 

What kinds of nonprofit tech jobs exist? Almost any job in the corporate world also exists in the nonprofit sector, including many computer science jobs and information technology careers

Nonprofits need web developers to create informative websites that accept online donations. They hire software engineers to create apps and integrate technology into their systems. Project managers help nonprofits provide services that require technology. 

Nonprofits also rely on data analysts, IT professionals, and UX/UI designers to connect with donors, serve diverse populations, and achieve their organizational goals. 

Advantages of working at a nonprofit

Working at a nonprofit offers several advantages for tech professionals. 

First, nonprofits work toward a cause rather than for profits. Many tech professionals find working in the nonprofit sector rewarding. Rather than focusing on quarterly earnings and stock prices, nonprofits emphasize helping people and improving the world.

Compared to the major tech companies, nonprofits can provide greater role flexibility. In smaller nonprofit organizations, tech professionals take on several roles and expand their skill sets. Experience at a nonprofit organization can also help tech professionals build their resumes and target specific jobs at tech companies.

With an expanding number of remote work opportunities, tech professionals can also work for specific nonprofit organizations regardless of their location. Nonprofit tech jobs provide a meaningful way to work in tech. 

Disadvantages of working at a nonprofit

There's a clear downside to working in the nonprofit sector: Salary. Compared with the private sector, nonprofit tech jobs pay less. It's even sometimes called the nonprofit pay cut. For example, systems administrators make 8.1% less in the nonprofit sector, according to a survey from PayScale. 

Nonprofit organizations often operate on a limited budget. That can mean fewer resources for employees. Budgetary restrictions might mean out-of-date tech or an inability to upgrade to the latest systems. And nonprofit employees may run into red tape if proposed changes need to go through a board of directors.

Finally, nonprofit workers may experience added stress or pressure due to the organization's mission. While workplace burnout is a problem in every sector, nonprofit workers may take setbacks or challenges harder because they believe in their organization's cause. 

Negotiating salary at a nonprofit

Worried about the lower salaries in the nonprofit sector? Here are tips on negotiating your starting salary or landing a raise. 

  • Research salaries in your organization and the nonprofit sector. The same advice applies to nonprofit and corporate jobs. Research can help you avoid asking for less than you're worth.

  • Bring examples and data to support your request for a higher salary. Demonstrate your value to the organization in clear terms to increase your chances for a raise or higher starting salary.

  • Check financial reports to see your organization's budget. Nonprofits disclose their budgets and some salary information on the IRS Form 990s they file annually.

  • Negotiate for other benefits. Many nonprofits have a tight budget, but they may be able to offer other perks, like more vacation days. 

Check out our tips on how to negotiate salary for more.

Landing a nonprofit tech job

Nonprofits look for many of the same qualifications as for-profit organizations. 

Most nonprofit tech jobs require a college degree. A computer science or information technology degree generally meets the requirement. In addition, nonprofits look for prior experience and a good fit with the job's key responsibilities. 

Job candidates also benefit from showing passion for the organization's cause. If possible, connect the cause to your own life or demonstrate knowledge about the topic. Use your cover letter to explain your interest in working for the organization and your dedication to the cause. 

Do you have to be passionate about the cause?

What if you aren't passionate about the nonprofit's cause? Avoid lying or exaggerating in your application. Instead, highlight your technical skills and your ability to contribute to the mission.

Plan ahead for how you might answer questions about the cause during your interview. If you have no interest in the cause or actively oppose it, consider looking for other opportunities. 

Advice from a tech professional at a nonprofit

Cari Campbell, a white woman with short hair and clear glasses, smiles in a professional headshot.

Cari Campbell was recently promoted to chief technology officer after serving as YR Media's technology director since 2017. In her new role, she is responsible for developing the company's technology strategy for growth. 

Campbell is a mission-driven technology leader with more than 25 years of experience working in collaborative and innovative environments. 

She previously worked in a diverse range of digital media settings, including production management and educational programming at New College of California, music production at Prime Loops in London, and high-growth scaling at the Bay-area startup, Delectable. 

Campbell received her MFA from Stanford University and bachelor of fine arts in Communications and Studio Art from Mills College.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

ZDNet: What type of person is successful and thrives in a nonprofit setting? 

Cari Campbell: There isn't necessarily a type of person that would thrive in a nonprofit setting, but it is important that you connect with the organization's mission. Thriving within the work environment comes from loving what you do, being fully engaged in the experience, and enjoying it. 

ZDNet: What type of person may not be the best fit?

CC: Someone who is more rigid or fixed in their work approach would probably not be the best fit in a nonprofit. Nonprofit organizations' needs are always fluctuating so flexibility is key. 

(You'll need flexibility while) taking on a challenging new project, or figuring out how to navigate when there is a tight budget while balancing technology, security and software needs. 

ZDNet: What are the most rewarding aspects of your career? What are the most challenging aspects of your career?

CC: I find it rewarding when our collective planning and work leads to successful outcomes towards our mission. 

The most challenging part is rolling with the ever-changing grant/funding cycles. It requires very deep consideration to know what to invest in or make the right purchasing decision. Ease of use usually comes with hidden costs, so assessing a new service or software can be tricky.

ZDNet: Why did you choose to work at a nonprofit, rather than a for-profit company?

CC: I have always been driven to help others. The first nonprofit organization I worked for was Maitri AIDS Hospice during the height of the AIDS crisis, and I loved the experience. It felt necessary and important. 

I worked there for many years up until I went to graduate school. When I finished my MFA I had the same motivation to help people. I then learned studio art and emerging technologies, and a friend recommended that I consider YR Media (Youth Radio at the time). Over the years, I have worked at for-profit companies, but I prefer to put my time and energy into work that directly helps the community.

ZDNet: What advice do you have for tech professionals considering pursuing a job in the nonprofit sector?

CC: I would advise them to take time to make sure it's the right match for them, to know what motivates them and speaks to their purpose. Since there are so many different nonprofit organizations, from small startups to large institutions, you have to find the right environment for you. 

I find that volunteering is a really good way to get to know the organization and whether it will be a fit professionally and personally. 

In conclusion

Nonprofits are a great place for tech professionals to build their skills while also serving a cause. While the nonprofit sector does not match everyone's interests, it can provide professional and personal growth opportunities. Consider researching organizations and adding nonprofit opportunities to your job search.

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