What it is

Nonprofit, or not-for-profit, organizations exist to fulfill a mission rather than to generate revenue. Led by a Board of Directors supervising a President or Executive Director, nonprofits can be supported by a mixture of grants, donations, membership dues, and earned income. There are nonprofits of all types and sizes advancing every mission on earth. Science-related nonprofits typically offer a variety of roles for trained scientists, both at and away from the bench.

Starting points

STEM PhDs can enter the non-profit sector in a number of positions, from intern to researcher to policy analyst to writer to program officer. An academic background is viewed positively at nonprofits that are more research or subject-matter oriented, but skills and experience are primary.


Pay is typically lower than in for-profit companies, but the work is rewarding and can be very interesting, particularly if you genuinely care about the mission. You can move up to become Director of your area, even ultimately Executive Director. You can also move pretty fluidly from one organization to another. Nonprofit experience is essential if you dream of starting your own nonprofit someday.


All STEM disciplines can find a place in nonprofit sector, especially in organizations with missions related to science.

Personality and Outlook
Introverts might be happier as bench researchers; extroverts may enjoy managerial or public-facing roles. It is extremely helpful to be mission-driven and deeply concerned with the impact you are having on the world. Although one might not think of non-profits as entrepreneurial, they are in fact highly so. They constantly have to strategize for financial survival and visibility as major players in their respective mission areas. An entrepreneurial streak will be very helpful no matter what your role.


Look up nonprofits in your area, pick one you like and get involved. Do anything at first, just to gain exposure to the workings of an organization. Conduct informational interviews with people in the nonprofit sector. Learn how non-profits work and which roles might appeal to you the most, then develop related skills and experience.

Real Life Examples