Types of Nonprofit Organisations
While work in the nonprofit world can be characterized in certain general ways, the sector is hugely diverse, both in terms of types of organisations and types of positions available. Nonprofits can be huge organisations, employing thousands of paid workers coordinated through a well-defined organisational structure. They can just as easily be tiny -- many nonprofits are comprised of only a paid executive director and volunteers. However, there are a variety of major players in the sector, many of which can offer competitive salaries to graduates. A small sampling of these includes:
- Australia Red Cross
- World Vision
Moreover, the missions of nonprofits vary widely. Universities and think tanks that study the sector lump nonprofit organisations into several different categories, largely based on approach and purpose.
Broken down by size, the largest in Australia are social services (26 percent), education and research (24 percent), culture and recreation (21 percent), health (15 percent), business and professional associations and unions (2.5 percent), and "other" -- which encompasses a pretty wide variety of the remaining organisations.
It's a crude kind of taxonomy and definitely not infallible, since many nonprofits fall into more than one category. But organisations that exemplify one category or another do share with one another characteristics in size, infrastructure and, to some extent, the kinds of people who work there.
Here's a bit more information about the kinds of groups in each category that might help you narrow down the field a bit. Since there's such a diverse array of organisations out there, the descriptions here are very general and cannot be applied to every organisation in any particular category.
This category encompasses a broad array of groups that provide resources and services for the disabled and disenfranchised, including legal aid societies, housing assistance programs and homeless shelters, soup kitchens, job training centres, child welfare groups, day care operations, immigrant assistance organisations, rape crisis centres and mental health counselling facilities, among many, many others. The sheer number of such groups far exceeds any other category.
As a result, many scholars in the nonprofit field describe social service agencies as the face of the nonprofit world -- the kind of group that most people think of when they hear the word "nonprofit." Most social service operations heavily rely on government funding, either through grants or contracts.
Social service agencies must also wrestle with establishing rigorous and somewhat cumbersome self-evaluation processes, since many government agencies and private foundations award contracts and grants based on performance. This is an issue that the entire nonprofit sector contends with, but it's a particular challenge for social service groups because of their heavy reliance on public funding.
Moreover, the United Way (a major funder for social services groups) also requires that its beneficiaries establish benchmarks and performance outcomes. Aside from big-name organisations like the Salvation Army, Caritas or the YMCA, most social services groups are small and lean, without too much infrastructure beyond what is required of them by state agencies and the federal government. As a result, fundraising teams are often small and are not paid top dollar. As a fundraiser, you are most likely to work with social workers and clinicians, who are generally a compassionate and caring bunch.
International relief and development groups
Known abroad as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), international relief and development groups focus on activities to improve the quality of life for communities outside of Australia, primarily in developing countries. Groups like the Red Cross and Oxfam provide immediate, direct relief in the wake of war and natural disasters, while other groups devote time and energy to education and building local economies. This category of nonprofits also includes organisations that do not provide direct assistance to communities but peripherally impact quality of life, such as environmental awareness organisations. Most groups also have a dual focus on direct relief activities and advocacy.
Fundraising teams usually work from headquarters with opportunities to travel abroad. Like advocacy groups, the largest of the international relief agencies generally pay their fundraising staff well. Since there's a heavy reliance on government funding, there's also a heavy focus on proposal and report writing, so fundraisers are usually strong writers. The work can be rewarding, exciting, dangerous and stressful. In some countries, field staff are at considerable risk from terrorism and civil strife, and most are used to living without luxury. With a truly global workforce, cultural difference is a challenge, especially in navigating different communication styles.
Health organisations include all manner of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, hospice facilities and drug rehabilitation centres. Perhaps because of their relative wealth, or the demands of physicians, salaries at health organisations (especially hospitals) tend to be among the highest in the nonprofit world.
Along with healing the sick, health organisations deal with extensive bureaucracy relating to stringent state and federal regulations, as well as concerns about patient privacy. So as a fundraiser, you are just as likely to work with a hospital administrator of some sort as you are a doctor or nurse. In some health organisations, politics may go hand in hand with treatment of the sick; hospital associated with universities will have interns, residents and researchers vying for the best residencies, teaching and administrative positions.
You may also see different departments at a hospital competing with one another for funding, especially for clinical research. It's important to remember that even if you are hidden away in the administrative offices as a fundraiser, sickness and death will be a part of your everyday existence. Many find work in this area fulfilling, but some find it depressing.
Arts and culture organisations
These organisations include community and professional theatres, dance companies, nonprofit art galleries and museums, orchestras and symphonies, literary and cultural magazines, as well as a range of arts appreciation groups. Salaries are often considerably smaller at arts organisations, although there are many cases where a development director is paid more than the artistic director. Most revenue comes from ticket sales, so marketing and audience development is an important concern and a constant challenge.
Arts groups in fact are always looking for ways to engage new constituents. These organisations also tend to work in close partnership with schools to support arts education programs. They also try to foster relationships with corporate interests that see a variety of opportunities to elevate their profile through the arts.
Most arts groups struggle to keep qualified and experienced administrative staff because of the lower salaries, long hours (especially when working for a performance group) and the strong temperament of artistic directors and boards. It is not at all unusual for highly public and bitter fights to break out between boards and organisational leadership over the artistic direction of an organisation. That said, the passion, dedication and talent of artists involved with these organisations can be quite intoxicating.
Congregations of various religious sects, as well as any denominations or associations under which congregations may organise, fall under the broad category of religious organisations. There are many hospitals, schools, social services agencies and advocacy groups with religious affiliations (such as the Salvation Army or St. Vincent de Paul), but these organisations usually fall under the category of the cause that they serve or the assistance they provide.
The primary purpose of a congregation is to offer religious guidance and education to individuals and communities, while denominations are regional or national associations that provide additional leadership and support services to individual congregations. It is important to note that a congregation in any given community may be completely independent from a particular denomination.
While there are a few large congregations with paid staff (including fundraisers), most are very small and run entirely by volunteers. Likewise, any social services a congregation provides (such as distributing clothes or housing the needy) are almost entirely volunteer-based operations. As you would expect, congregations are almost entirely reliant on donations from members. There are therefore few opportunities to work for a congregation or denomination as a professional fundraiser. However, there are many opportunities with other nonprofit organisations with religious ties. As you would expect, the character of these organisations is determined by the structure and culture of the faith, the religious leadership and the individual members.
Private foundations, federated charities and grant-giving organisations fall into the "funders" category. These groups generally do not engage in any activities other than distributing money to nonprofits. Federated charities are organisations that collect donations from individuals and distribute them to a chosen group of nonprofit organisations. Those charities that wish to receive funds usually go through an application process to demonstrate that they are legal and viable nonprofits. Most people are familiar with the United Way, but there are other such groups that raise funds for research and treatment of diseases.
Investment firms can also establish donor-advised funds that are registered as nonprofit organisations. These funds are comprised of donations from wealthy individuals and are managed by a financial advisor who may either follow the instructions of the donor on which charities to support or may make those decisions on their own. Most community foundations also create donor-advised funds to help donors in any given location be effective in their philanthropy.
As with other nonprofit organisations, a board of directors (usually known as the board of trustees) oversees the general direction of grant-giving. A professional staff of financial advisers, policy experts and those with expertise in nonprofit management make day-to-day decisions about how to wisely invest the pool of funds and how to distribute grants. Like the rest of the nonprofit sector, there are far smaller family foundations and donor-advised funds run by one or two staff than large, professional foundations run by many. The larger foundations and federated charities generally pay well and provide rather generous benefits. Jobs at foundations are among the most competitive in the fundraising and philanthropic giving field.