NonProfit Opinion Center
What are Nonprofit Jobs and How do I Find Them?
Post by University of Wisconsin-Madison on Monday, 13 May 2013
Understanding the Nonprofit Sector
As opposed to government (public sector) and business (private sector), the nonprofit sector (also referred to as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent sector, philanthropic sector, or third sector) is often defined by what it is not. The nonprofit sector is comprised of organizations that are trying to create a better world, as defined by each of these organizations’ missions. These organizations have varying levels of government oversight depending on the country in which they are located. Within the nonprofit sector, there are organizations whose missions directly oppose one another, and many more whose work is guided by similar values, goals, and visions.
Third sector organizations address issues such as poverty, the environment, youth development, community service, health care, workers’ rights, public policy, violence prevention, the arts, economic development, and many more. People often think of “nonprofits” as youth centers and soup kitchens, but they also include religion institutions, universities, hospitals, trade associations, unions, and museums.
Who works in the Nonprofit Sector?
According to Independent Sector, in the United States alone, 12 million individuals (about 9% of the workforce) work with nonprofit organizations. Some have the same titles as professionals working in the corporate or government sector: receptionists, CEOs/Executive Directors and presidents, accountants, managers, researchers, event planners, teachers, sales people and programmers. There are also many titles unique to the nonprofit sector: community organizers, advocates, program managers, and volunteer coordinators.
This only serves to show that many of the same skills and opportunities available with businesses and the government are available in the nonprofit sector. The uniqueness of the nonprofit sector should not be overlooked, but any of your skills and talents could be put to use within a nonprofit organization.
What kinds of jobs are available to recent college graduates in the nonprofit sector?
Working for a nonprofit at the beginning of your career will likely offer more responsibility, leadership and immediate growth opportunities than you ever would experience at the entry level in business or the government. Depending on what you want to do, here are some job titles that should be within your reach: research assistant/associate, project/program coordinator or assistant, executive assistant, organizer, volunteer coordinator, administrative assistant, event planner, etc. Having extensive volunteer experience in a given area, information technology skills, or being bilingual and/or bicultural can make you an even more attractive candidate.
Although many jobs will say that one-to-two years’ experience in the given field is required, you should be confident in applying for just about any job asking for this range of experience that does not require a master’s degree. If you have volunteer experience in the given field or know someone at the organization, you should feel even more comfortable in applying.
“Year-of-Service Programs”, both secular and faith-based, are great opportunities for recent college graduates to get started in the nonprofit sector. Most of these programs will help you find a job, place you in a community of people doing similar work, and provide opportunities for training, professional, and personal development.
Can I pay my rent, loans, and eat with a nonprofit job?
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for young people seeking out work in the nonprofit sector, the salaries are indeed lower. But there is more to this issue when you take a closer look.
Disregarding the “feel-good” benefits of nonprofit work, living well on a nonprofit salary as a recent college graduate is very doable. Young adults around the world prove this every day. Starting salaries in the nonprofit sector are often very similar to starting salaries in other industries (excluding investment banking and consulting). Nonprofits often have excellent benefit packages, with generous time off/vacation days, and many year-of-service programs offer loan deferment.
How do I find the jobs? – The bad news first
On most college campuses, jobs in the nonprofit sector are a virtually invisible part of many employment opportunities presented. Your friends, parents, and professors may provide little to no understanding and/or support of your desire to do something outside the norm.
Nonprofit organizations themselves, most of which would love to hire young, energetic, talented staff, do not have the resources to recruit on campus in any comprehensive, strategic, or competitive way. Unlike many private sector employers who can predict their staffing needs 9 months in advance, nonprofit employers often hire on an as-needed basis. With some exceptions on campuses across the United States, there will likely be no more than one or two nonprofits, if any, which actually recruit at your campus. There will likely be few nonprofits at any career fairs on your campus.
Students with an interest in nonprofit jobs are forced to go beyond the average time, energy, and strategies that most students will put into the job searching process. They will also have to smile politely (or not) at the multitude of people who will ask them when they plan to get a “real job”.
It becomes not that surprising why working for nonprofits after college is so much the exception than the norm on most campuses across the country. And this does not even mention having to contend with your student loans on a nonprofit salary.
A few reasons not to give up – the good news
1. The opportunities exist
Many opportunities for recent college graduates exist within nonprofit organizations all over the world. The challenge is making connections between the organizations with these opportunities and the young people who want them stronger, more visible, and easier to access.
2. The people you know
Presumably you are interested in working with a nonprofit in part because of people you have met through volunteering, classes, internships, or jobs you have held in the past. These people can be your best resources for finding the right opportunity for you. The nonprofit sector is often a relatively small and well-connected community within different issues (environment, arts, labor, homelessness, etc.) and in most cities or towns. Meet with or contact all the people in your network as you begin your job search and always ask them who else they know that you should contact.
3. You are not alone
Searching for nonprofit work as a college senior can be a frighteningly lonely and frustrating experience. But take some comfort in knowing that there are thousands of people on campuses across the country in exactly the same position. And the high turnover rates in nonprofit organizations mean that there are plenty of opportunities for all of you. Idealist.org has bulletin boards which allow young people to connect with each other on a wide variety of topics concerning nonprofit work and volunteering. You can also rely on like-minded friends and peers on campus who can share in this exciting and daunting search.