Common good careers are values-driven opportunities in all three sectors: public, private, and nonprofit. Common good careers usually address issues of public concern and are motivated more by mission than by profit.
Those working in the nonprofit sector often perform functions beyond their job descriptions, while the public and private sectors are generally more structured.
Counselor/Case Worker: Works one-on-one with clients providing referrals and case management.
Educator/Trainer: Facilitates delivery of curriculum to a clientele.
Job Developer: Develops jobs for an at-risk population.
Lobbyist: Conducts policy analysis and advocacy on either a local, state, or national level.
Organizer: Conducts education and action campaigns around certain issues; there are both union organizers and community organizers.
Program or Project Assistant/Coordinator/Manager/Director: Varying levels of work relating directly to a program of the organization.
Volunteer Coordinator: Recruits volunteers for an organization.
Administrative Assistant: Provides clerical assistance to staff and often performs a range of tasks.
Development Assistant/Associate/Manager/Director: Raises money for the organization, potentially through methods including grant writing, special events, and individual donors.
Executive Director: Oversees operation of an entire organization and often is the staff person spending the most time on fundraising.
Grant Writer: Writes grant proposals to private foundations and/or government agencies.
Office Manager: Oversees general operation of an office; could include some accounting, acting as liaison with vendors, and maintaining equipment.
Public Relations Assistant/Coordinator/Manager/Director: Manages publicity and public relations for an organization, often acting as liaison with the media.
Many professionals in the private sector also have counterparts in nonprofits. Some examples include accountants, attorneys, information systems managers, writers and editors, and planners.
Idealist.org Overview of Different Organizations Working for Social Change
The Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers is a great place to begin exploring careers in the nonprofit sector
Vault's Nonprofit Sector page (you will need to create an account using your Colgate email address to view this content) includes an extensive industry overview and, at the bottom of the page, links to guides on specific professions in the field.
Prepare for Jobs and Internships
Information, tips, and strategies to help prepare you as an undergraduate.
Experience with nonprofit organizations
Not necessarily just employment experience, but volunteer and internship experience too.
Demonstrated commitment to a particular cause or organization
- Many one-time projects may be less impressive than quality work over an extended period of time.
- Experience with the specific issue(s) on which the organization focuses.
- Increased responsibility over time.
Relevant skills and experience
- Tailor your résumé to the particular organization and job; use your cover letter to highlight your most relevant and transferable skills and experience.
- Certain skills are generally valued by all organizations: speaking multiple languages, fundraising and grant-writing experience, publicity, and event planning experience.
- Leadership does not have to mean starting a new organization. Demonstrate that you have an ability to get the job done and make things happen, especially if it's behind the scenes.
- Demonstrate that you have taken initiative to go above and beyond what was expected of you and make sure you highlight the outcome of your accomplishments.
Experience working with diverse people/communities/constituencies
- Language, communication, and facilitation skills, along with relevant experience in diverse arenas can be a critical addition to a nonprofit résumé.
- Previous international experience is a virtual necessity for careers in the international sector.
- Demonstrating cross-cultural competencies that show your ability to adapt well to a new environment, work in a diverse cultural setting, and sensitivity to other cultures and values.
Always use action verbs when communicating your skills. While composing your competencies/skills, think about the kinds of universal or transferable skills that apply in any sector:
- Multitasking: the ability to do several tasks at once, switch gears quickly, and manage several long-term projects simultaneously
- Showing initiative: starting a new program, solving a long-standing problem, asking for new responsibilities
- Influence: getting people to work with you despite not having direct supervision or control over them
- Managing diversity: bringing diverse groups together and being purposeful about inclusivity
- Working under constraints: limited time, limited finances, and limited staff to accomplish tasks
- Flexibility: changing direction mid-course in a project based on user feedback
- "Pleasing the masses": making sure that everyone is happy, not just the people on your team (known as stakeholder management)
- Fundraising: ability to call upon individuals and organizations to support your cause/issue; being persuasive and building trust to connect peoples' interests
- Social Media: ability to connect people, issues, and organizations through web-based technology to create an interactive dialogue and the exchange of user-generated content
These depend upon your area of interest. If you wish to rise to the management level, an MBA or Master’s in Nonprofit Management or Public Administration may be necessary.
Finding Money for Social Change Grant Writing Class - The COVE, Career Services, The Writing Center and the Upstate Institute sponsor an 11-week, non-credit grant writing class each spring. Applications are typically due in early January.
The COVE - Our goal is to help America meet its two most pressing challenges: to create healthy communities that meet the multiple needs of all people, and to create an activated citizenry of community builders who are committed to democracy.
The Upstate Institute - Creates linkages between Colgate University and the regional community to engage students, faculty, staff and residents in research and a reciprocal transfer of knowledge that will enhance the economic, social and cultural capacity of the area and sustain the environment. These projects provide a model of community collaboration and civic engagement for our students and within higher education.
The Upstate Field School - The Field School matches students with regional community, government or nonprofit organizations to develop and implement projects that bolster organizational capacity.
Doing Well by Doing Good Luncheon Series - This luncheon series is held at least four times every semester to expose students to a variety of Common Good career opportunities. Luncheons feature students, alumni, or community members who share their own career paths with students in an informal setting. These events are hosted by Career Services and the COVE and are typically held on Fridays at 12:20 in the COVE lounge. See Career Services and COVE emails for more information.
Advice from alumni who work in this industry.
Maggie Mariani '10
Current Title and Organization: Senior Object Cataloger and Assistant Project Manager, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Major at Colgate: Sociology & Anthropology
What led you to pursue your current role?
I am a trained museum professional with a background in collections management. I enjoy researching artifacts, storytelling, and contextualizing them historically, so a position cataloging artifacts was a good fit for me. I am very interested in increasing accessibility to collections online, and this particular project focuses on researching and completing detailed catalog records that are then directly uploaded to the Museum’s online collections search function and visible to the public.
What activities on campus were most helpful to your transition into your work?
In general, my classes established the best foundation for my professional path. I also had a chance to pursue summer research and later some student-work at the Longyear Museum of Anthropology, which was an invaluable experience and introduced me to many aspects of museum work. In general, many of my interests and associations from my time at Colgate have carried through to my professional and personal life, and have enriched both aspects significantly.
What value do you look for in a company when searching for a role?
When looking for a position, the mission and values of a company or institution are critical. Whenever possible, I try to keep mission in mind when choosing a role, though that can be a challenge at times to balance that against available work sometimes in a competitive field like museum work, where getting a job of any kind is difficult.
What was the most challenging aspect of the graduate school application process?
While applying to graduate school, I found the greatest challenge to be understanding what types of coursework, practical experience, and degree would best further my career goals. Museum work is varied and there is no single entry point to the profession or a straightforward career path once you're in the field. My goals have since changed several times, and I am grateful that I considered so many factors during my initial application process because the choices I made have allowed me to pivot as needed over time.
How would you advise students to approach the possibility of graduate school?
I would suggest students consider graduate school very carefully. Graduate studies are a big commitment of both time and money. Students should really consider if they need another degree to work in their field, and if so, what the return on investment will be once they finish and begin working. They should also investigate if their field of interest is one where previous experience in the working world is a strong benefit when applying to graduate school, and consider the best way to get that experience if it would be advisable.
What did you do in your gap year?
I did take a gap year, and would definitely recommend doing so if it is possible. I knew I needed a bit of a break after college to really consider if I wanted to dive back into the rigor of the academic world. Taking time also meant that I could stay focused on coursework and enjoying senior year while I was still at Colgate, rather than dealing with GRE scores and applications. These are all things I took care of during the summer after graduation and during my gap year instead. I was able to take plenty of time for all of these important steps and think about what I wanted without additional school pressure.
I did work about 37 hours a week at a part-time job while doing this. The job was in a community-oriented, non-profit setting so I could see how I felt working in that type of environment and have flexible hours for studying, graduate school interviews, and campus visits. I was also able to develop key soft-skills for working with the public, which are still quite helpful.
Because of limited funding, nonprofits tend to recruit on an as-needed basis (aka, last minute). When pursuing a summer internship or full-time employment to begin in summertime, positions are typically posted in mid-to-late spring or early summer. In addition, nonprofits have limited recruitment budgets, meaning that they don’t often actively recruit on campus.
Visit Vault.com for information about companies and careers. The site provides the industry context needed to identify your best job opportunities. Use the Research Companies tab to browse popular industries, or search for key terms using the search bar. You will need to create an account using your Colgate email address to view this content.
Opportunities for students to apply for funding for their internship or summer learning experience. Look for applications through Career Services early in the Spring semester.
A paid summer internship program that allows students attending Colgate University to work in non-profit organizations in the Boston area. Those awarded a Fellowship receive a stipend of $4,200 and are assigned to a project or agency, working 40 hours per week for 10 weeks. Look for applications through Career Services in October.
Provided for highly qualified students interested in pursuing a career in community and/or public work with summer internship funding. Fellows will receive funding to pursue an internship in the field of direct service/community work for the summer. One or more Levine-Weinberg Fellows will be selected based on academic and extra-curricular (specifically service) achievement. Look for applications through the COVE in the Spring semester.
Colgate Handshake Opportunities
Check Colgate Handshake, Colgate's internship and job database, for opportunities that may interest you in this field.
Connect to Careers
Latest stories about internships, workshops, professional networks, and more.