Demystifying The Myths Of Switching To A Career In The Nonprofit Sector
In January, many people think about changing careers. But many don’t think about the nonprofit sector as an option. I have often wondered why that is…why as we are growing up we are told we can be doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, even President of the United States. But it’s rare to hear about the wonderful careers in the philanthropic (nonprofit) world. It’s just not on the radar when we consider our choices. And it is not something that career counselors even discuss, let alone raise as a possibility.
Maybe that’s why most people don’t know the breadth and depth of the nonprofit sector. With an estimated 1.6 million charities in the US alone (not counting churches and houses of worship or nonprofits with an annual budget under $25,000), there are countless job opportunities and they exist across a wide spectrum of interests and issues. Working in a nonprofit often means you can have a job and fulfill your passion.
- More than 12 million people are employed by nonprofit organizations. That’s 10% of the US workforce, so more people work in the nonprofit sector than in the automotive sector or the electronics sector or even the oil and gas sector.
- Jobs range from leadership positions, fundraisers and program staff to support positions such as research, janitorial services, accounting, IT, human resources, marketing, administrative, and more; consider that every type of position that exists in the “for profit” world also exists in the nonprofit world.
- Nonprofit organizations can be found across the country—in cities, suburbs and rural areas. They serve communities, address community problems and build community assets in diverse ways. Surveys show that most people feel the nonprofit sector does the best job of helping people and handling resources; better than corporations or the federal government.
By working in nonprofit you can choose an area that you care deeply about. For example, if you are really passionate about feeding hungry people in this country, you could explore job opportunities within the food bank community by starting with Feeding America. If you care about animals you might choose to work in one of many animal-focused nonprofits such as the United States Humane Society or the World Wildlife Fund. If you are committed to improving the environment you might consider the Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy. The list is endless, especially for those interested in fundraising, with jobs available in the arts, healthcare, education and social services sectors, among others. In other words, you can do what you love and the money will follow!
But there are some myths that persist about working in the nonprofit sector:
MYTH #1 - YOU CANNOT EARN A SALARY WORKING AT A NONPROFIT
FALSE: People who work for nonprofit organizations earn a salary, enjoy benefits (even retirement funds) and have meaningful careers. In fact, even in the recent slow economy, S. News & World Report has noted that salaries in nonprofits continued to grow.
MYTH #2 - BUSINESS PEOPLE DO NOT WORK AT NONPROFITS
False: Many intelligent people who have graduate degrees and years of for-profit experience choose to work at nonprofit organizations with many leaving the for-profit world to explore an encore career working with a purpose.
MYTH #3 - THERE ARE NO ADVANCEMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN NONPROFIT WORK
False: Many people have life-long careers within the nonprofit sector. There are innumerable examples of those who started in entry level positions who eventually ended up becoming the Executive Director or President of the nonprofit organization.
MYTH #4 - NONPROFITS ARE NOT PROFESSIONAL
False: Most nonprofit organizations are very professional in nature with policies and operational manuals as well as guidelines and processes established.
MYTH #5 - NONPROFITS ONLY NEED VOLUNTEERS
False: Volunteers are integral to the success of nonprofit organizations, however most nonprofit organizations have paid staff; one simply has to think of organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Kennedy Center and Harvard University to see this myth dispelled.
MYTH #6 - NONPROFITS ARE INEFFICIENT ORGANIZATIONS
False: Nonprofits organizations are often more efficient than many other companies or businesses. What is key here is the measurement. In order for nonprofit organizations to secure funding from individuals, corporations or foundations they often have to show that they’re efficient and effective at what they do.
MYTH #7 – THERE ARE ONLY FUNDRAISING JOBS AVAILABLE IN THE NONPROFIT SECTOR
False: Although selecting a career in fundraising is outstanding in terms of opportunities in the job market, there is a wide variety of positions needed in every nonprofit organization, from accountants to IT staff to human resources professionals, managers, case works, program staff, etc.
A career in the nonprofit sector is a rewarding and positive experience that provides a vibrant and stimulating work environment. Here are five recommendations and tips on easy ways to begin your career in the nonprofit sector that will allow you to Make A Difference (M.A.D.) when going to work in this area:
- Volunteer on a regular schedule at your favorite nonprofit or in an area that is important to you; by volunteering you will witness first-hand the possibilities of working in the philanthropic sector (and gain important contacts).
- Meet with people from the nonprofit sector to learn more about all the career possibilities; have a cup of coffee and discuss the charitable field.
- Check out these websites for available fundraising positions if that is your interest (fundraising is a terrific way into nonprofits): idealist.org; www.case.org; www.afpnet.org: www.philanthropy.com; and www.ahp.org.
- Take a class; you don’t have to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree but can learn more by sitting with others in the classroom and gaining additional skills that will help you get a position. A simple search on the Internet will produce educational institutions in your area that offer nonprofit courses.
- Attend a conference. Check out these two that have national, regional and local conferences: AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals), and CASE (Council for Advancement and Support in Education).
Bonus tip: Read books on the philanthropic sector and consider a career as a fundraiser. In 2009, US News and World Report listed fundraising as one of its “Best Careers” to consider for that year and beyond!
Most individuals who work in the nonprofit sector find their work very exciting and they are tremendously satisfied with the opportunity to accomplish something worthwhile. Surveys have shown that people who work in the nonprofit sector are much happier with their work than those who work in the for-profit or government sectors.
By choosing a career in nonprofit–no matter what role–you can be assured you will be Making A Difference (M.A.D.) and embarking on a successful career! Are you ready to be M.A.D.?
FROM THE EDITOR
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