Working for Non-Profit Environmental Organizations

By Eric Hammer

Non profit environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (to name just a few - a complete list is available at Wikipedia. See below) all need good people to work for them. Jobs at such organizations include activists, lobbyists, clerical staff and of course fund raisers.

There are also often jobs available at such organizations which provide you with the chance to work with the public in educational forums. The catch of course in working for non profit environmental organizations is that they have limited funds and don't "earn" money the way an ordinary company might. Instead, they rely on donations. Especially in a time of austerity, as we are currently going through (as of December, 2010), jobs can be a bit hard to come by.

That having been said, if you are committed to doing this kind of work with your life, then more power to you. It is definitely possible to make a living and even a good living working with non profits of all shapes and sizes. There are even a number of job boards where jobs specifically intended for the non profit world in general (though not necessarily for green jobs with environmental organizations) are posted.

How Much Can You Make?

Don't expect to get rich working for an organization like this. Most non profit environmental organizations operate on a shoestring budget. However, even the bigger places which have serious money to spend don't just throw it around offering high salaries.

Realistically, entry level jobs with these organizations, such as clerical work will pay a little more than minimum wage. Activists and educators typically earn on the low side of a middle class wage (around $30.000-$60.000 depending on the position and where in the country you are located) and upper management typically earns in the high five figures to low six figures.

A notable exception is fund raisers. While most ethical fund raisers will not work for a percentage of money they bring in, successful fund raisers are easily able to command low to mid level six figure salaries, assuming of course the numbers they are bringing in go into the seven figure and even eight figure areas. Even fund raisers at smaller organizations tend to earn decent money, in the neighborhood of around $10-$15 per hour to start. The catch of course is that you need to produce significantly more than your own salary so that it makes sense for the organization to keep you on staff.

Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities | Tips

An additional word about fund raisers before moving on which is related to this section: If you know how to do fund raising (and by this, we mean fund raising in large numbers, not charity boxes where nickels and dimes come in), a related opportunity to this is to start your own fundraising consultancy. Fundraising consultants (again, those who are ethical) also charge a per hour fee, but do command fees in the range of $100-$250 per hour if they are very good at what they do.

Beyond that, consider working with government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to find green jobs that don't rely on the always iffy world of non profit environmental organizations.

Remember also that you are in a people business here. Even though your goal is saving the earth, unless you are a whiz at designing advertising campaigns or work as the staff accountant, you'll likely be called upon to have significant contact with the public. So keep a smile on your face and make sure that you tout the party line.

In other words, if the environment is important to you, don't toss the newspaper in the nearest trash can. Remember to reduce, reuse, recycle; or even better, get an ereader and get your newspaper electronically. This way, you'll have a significantly smaller carbon footprint (the initial impact is larger because of the manufacture of your ereader and shipping it to you, but over a lifetime [of the reader, not your lifetime] of use, your carbon footprint over-all is much smaller than if you read the print newspaper and tossed it into the recycling bin).

Qualifications / Requirements

Generally, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree and often a masters degree or a PhD in your specialty. Since non-profit environmental groups often have particular areas that the focus on (marine biology, wildlife conservation, preserving rainforests, etc.), it pays to figure out in advance what area of the environment you are really excited about and to get a degree in that area of study. The more qualified you are with college degrees, the more likely you are to get a decent job doing interesting things for the organization of your choice.

First Steps

Start by volunteering for an organization or two that happens to be of interest to you. Join their mailing list as well. Find out from the staff what they actually do on a day to day basis. Ask yourself if this is something you want to do with your life. If it is, ask the staff what kind of qualifications you'll need in order to land a job with them. Most people who work at non profit environmental groups will both be happy to tell you what you'll need and warn you that getting a job isn't easy since there are a fairly limited number of positions to go around and you have to be really good to get a job.


Check out these helpful resources to find out more about working for non profit environmental organizations:

Wikipedia: List of Environmental Organizations - While we tend to prefer not to use Wikipedia as a source (since it can be edited by anyone, information there is sometimes suspect), in this case, the information here could prove invaluable. This is a list of hundreds of environmental organizations, making it much easier to find places to apply to for work.

Mother Jones: A Guide to Non Profit Environmental Organizations - While not as comprehensive as the list above, the details here are much more comprehensive on the organizations that they do list.

Non Profit Jobs - While not specifically aimed at the environment, this is a great resource since it lists paying jobs with all kinds of non profit organizations.

Non Profit Jobs Cooperative - Similar to the site above, this is a general job listing for the non profit world.

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