Nonprofit social work is one of the most popular career options for Master of Social Work graduates looking to do good and put their skills to use. While there are several pros and cons to both nonprofit and for-profit social work, many ultimately choose to work in the nonprofit sector because of its reputation for mission-driven and meaningful professional opportunities.
Nonprofits are charitable organizations that have been formed for public benefit and are tax-exempt. The most common designation is a 501(c)(3), but there are actually 29 different types of organizations exempt under this code. Social work and human service nonprofits fall under the 501(c)(4) classification and make up more than 35.5 percent of all nonprofit organizations.
If you are interested in working among colleagues who are passionate about their work and driven to help others, then read on to learn how you can get started in a nonprofit social work career.
What Does it Take to Work in a Nonprofit?
The nonprofit sector of the social and human services field is extremely diverse and offers professionals the opportunity to work with specialized populations that the government may be unable to help. For example, nonprofit social services include women’s shelters, homeless outreach organizations, food assistance programs, and mobile medical units.
Where there is a need in a community — a nonprofit social service organization can rise to meet it.
Social services in this sector are not inhibited by the “red tape” of government or the complicated and sometimes antiquated rules of bureaucracy. Because these institutions rely on donations and other charitable grants for funding, there is often more freedom to act quickly and creatively to solve problems and help communities.
This type of social work requires an individual with specific talents and abilities, all of which can be cultivated and strengthened with a master’s degree. Here are a few of the characteristics it takes to thrive in nonprofit social work:
Creative — Often in nonprofit social work you will be asked to do more with less. When resources are limited you will need to think outside the box to help clients.
Driven — Nonprofits tend to be smaller organizations than their for-profit counterparts. Motivated individuals should be prepared to work hard and pitch in where they are needed.
Flexible — Because of their size and structure, nonprofits can more easily adjust to emerging and changing circumstances. These social work professionals should be ready to flex to changing schedules, varying resources, and the many needs of clients.
Passionate — Nonprofits are able to make lasting connections with the communities they serve, because of their ongoing contact. These professionals are deeply invested in their work and those they serve, and their enthusiasm shows.
Nonprofits often yield the greatest sense of satisfaction among social workers as their relationships with clients are frequently deeper than for-profit careers.
What Does a Career in Nonprofit Social Work Look Like?
Social work careers exist in almost every sector of nonprofit work. If there is a need in a community or population, there is likely an organization designed to assist. With a masters in social work, graduates are prepared for any nonprofit career path that interests them.
The opportunities are endless, but some examples of nonprofit social work occupations include:
Outreach and Education Coordinator
Case Manager - Women’s Shelter
Family Support Worker
Case Worker - Disaster Services
Discharge Planner - Medical Center
Residential Counselor - Young Adult Rehabilitation Center
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 Career Outlook study, social workers had a median annual wage of $46,890, which is higher than the average wage for all workers in the US ($37,040). It is a myth that the pay is low in a social work career.
While the salaries for nonprofit social workers are not as high as private practice, they come with other perks including more flexibility, greater room for entrepreneurial creativity, and more personalized connections to individuals and communities. In this profession, it is possible to do well while doing good.
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If you know that nonprofit social work is the career path for you, there is no better beginning than a Master of Social Work degree. Through this program, you will receive the resources, training, and experience needed to make the biggest possible impact in your profession and have the opportunity to collaborate with peers and faculty who are equally passionate about making a difference.