Making the Case for Non-Profit Jobs After College

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“If your son or daughter is considering a career in nonprofits, don’t be alarmed.” Paul Schmitz, an opinion writer for CNN, gave this advice to parents in mid-October of 2012. The quote succinctly sums up the attitude that many have toward nonprofit jobs and employees.

“You can work at a nonprofit to get your foot in the door and find something better.”

“Nonprofit jobs don’t pay anything.”

“Non-profit jobs aren’t real jobs.”

Non-Profit Jobs: What You’ll Earn

These last three are not quotes from Paul Schmitz, but they fit the same tone that his comes wrapped in. These are all statements I’ve personally heard attributed quite unfairly to the non-profit sector. I say unfairly because the non-profit sector is growing–and it’s growing fast.

The NY Times reports that the non-profit sector grew by 25 percent between 2001 and 2011, while both the private and public sectors experienced atrophy. In fact, the non-profit sector was the only sector to add jobs to the economy during the recession, at an average a rate of 1.9 percent per year. The private sector, on the other hand, lost jobs during that time at a rate of 3.7 percent per year.

So, especially for those just graduating college and fresh on the job hunt, non-profits are starting to look pretty appealing. As seen above, the non-profit job hunter’s larger concerns usually revolve around pay and whether or not advancement opportunities are present. This is because of the common myth is that non-profits are low-paying organizations that are mainly staffed by volunteers, but that simply isn’t true. Alison Green deconstructs the concept in her article on US News, stating that “many [non-profits] don’t use volunteer help at all, preferring instead the accountability of paid full-timers”.

Green is right–and there is no more readily apparent example than the healthcare field. The strain that the Affordable Care Act is putting on the healthcare field (which makes up about 57 percent of the non-profit sector) has sparked the University of Cincinnati to offer Health Informatics courses, responding to a “heightened demand for workers with both healthcare and IT skills.”

Whether it’s healthcare or not, IT and tech professionals will almost always have a seat at the nonprofit table, because they have skillsets that are invaluable to any organization, non-profit or otherwise. The IT skills gap has been forcing companies across the board to look high and low for qualified employees, which means paying competitive wages–and non-profit organizations do. Forbes reports that computer software engineers and IT systems managers can expect to make roughly between $90k and $95k per year working right around 40 hours a week. Sounds like a “real job” to me.

Achieving Happiness at Work

Of course, you’ll find that, in general, non-profit jobs will pay slightly less than your average public or private sector job because they do operate on tighter budgets, especially if your field of study is less in demand than that of an IT professional–but a limited budget does not necessarily denote a bad time.

In 2014 interview with After College, Loren Crippin of First Graduate, an education non-profit, stresses that limited funding inspires more creativity while developing skills that allow movement between multiple organizations. So while the non-profit jobs sector has plenty of need for skilled professionals dedicated to a single trade, they are also in need of and open to workers willing to wear multiple hats.

Crippin makes another important point. He says, “If I am going to spend eight hours a day doing something, I want it to mean something more than a number on a paycheck.” While I’m not saying that self-fulfillment and “good feels” are going to pay the electric bill, I am saying that they matter. Business author Daniel Pink posits that three elements affect your workplace attitude, those being autonomy, mastery, and purpose in work. That last one is the main factor in being intrinsically motivated to do something. For some people it’s not enough to get out of bed and go to work simply to be paid. You have to believe in what you’re doing at least somewhat, don’t you?

So the argument wrapped up with a neat little bow looks like this: non-profit organizations are offering more and more jobs every year, and looking for all types of skilled professionals. These professionals are generally paid competitively in their niches, and what those with more general skill sets may lack in pay, they can make up for in purpose of work. Choosing a non-profit you believe in is paramount–but with the skills gap emerging in the IT and healthcare fields, and the fact that non-profit jobs make up about 10 percent of total employment in the US, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one. You just have to look. 

written by Andrew Heikkila 

image: non-profit volunteer

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