Is a Nonprofit Career for You?

Is a Nonprofit Career for You?

Is a Nonprofit Career for You? banner

Charitable donations are at an all-time high. Data from Giving USA 2018 reveals that total charitable giving exceeded $410 billion in 2017.

With this increased emphasis on charitable giving also comes considerable growth in the nonprofit sector. Research from Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the nonprofit job growth rate outpaced for-profit job growth by over 3 to 1 between 2007 and 2016. Further growth is expected in the next few years. And despite typical stereotypes suggesting low wages and few full-time jobs at nonprofits, the sector actually produced impressive wages of $638.1 billion in 2016. It’s listed as the third largest payroll-provider behind only Manufacturing ($797.42 billion) and Professional, Scientific, & Technical Services ($783.3 billion), according to the Nonprofit Economic Data Project from Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.

Clearly, opportunity abounds in the nonprofit sector. Once thought of as an area of stagnation for aspiring professionals, the field is now regarded as an area of impressive growth, both among individual employees and on an industry-wide scale. Still, not everybody is cut out for nonprofit work. Jobs in this sector continue to present a variety of challenges above and beyond those encountered in the for-profit workforce.

As you determine your next move in the workforce, it’s important to examine the many differences between nonprofit and for-profit work — and where your unique passions and talents might best be used. A few of the most notable differences are outlined below:

1. Do you mind working an atypical schedule?
Many for-profit workplaces follow a strict 9-to-5 structure; the nonprofit atmosphere is decidedly less predictable. From fundraisers to client meetings, many nonprofit jobs call for unusual hours. “Those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to nonprofit work, especially on the fundraising side, understand that schedules and budgets don’t always fit into neat little boxes,” said Emily Morash, professor at JWU Online who worked for two decades in the field and now consults for the industry. This is not always a source of contention—many professionals thrive on the ever-changing nature of nonprofit work and may even prefer to avoid 9-to-5 routines. Morash put another spin on why this might work for some: “We are a different breed of person. We work for the mission. We work for the purpose. We are built and driven to help and advocate.”

2. Are you interested in having a say right away?
Nonprofit organizations are often structured to emphasize the power of the group. This democratic setup appeals to many employees, who desire a greater say in their day-to-day efforts and in their organization’s long-term concerns. In nonprofits, employees need not wait years to rise up the ladder before their voices can be heard. Most have a say from the get-go. Likewise, junior employees are able to build strong relationships with professionals at all levels.

The flipside of this consensus-based environment? This democratic approach can prove time-consuming and even highly inefficient at times. This is especially true in larger nonprofit organizations that lack a clear chain of command. Still, this differs considerably from one workplace to the next. Many organizations have accomplished the seemingly impossible: blending an efficient and strategic structure with an emphasis on input from all avenues.

3. Can you work within a limited budget?
Nonprofit organizations typically run on heavily restricted budgets. This can frustrate employees, who may struggle to fulfill their duties while remaining within strict budgetary guidelines. Many workers direct a considerable portion of their efforts towards fundraising. Some welcome this as an exciting source of challenge and call for creativity. Others, however, find fundraising efforts tiresome and discouraging.

Morash agreed with this reality, “Budgets are cut, positions are left unfilled, and there is one more hat that you have to wear until the economic situations turn in your favor again. It can be exhausting.

But … this is when you turn back to your mission. No one goes into nonprofit work for the money. We go in for the soul.”

If you’re put off by budgetary restraints, keep in mind that, like anything, financial concerns vary between industries and organizations — and sometimes even at the departmental level. Some hospitals and academic institutions are decidedly well-funded, while smaller organizations in niche areas tend to operate on a leaner budget.

4. Are you comfortable wearing many hats?
The budgetary restrictions of nonprofit organizations may call for some employees to fulfill a variety of roles. For example: HR workers may suddenly find themselves taking over social media, while content strategists may be thrown into fundraising efforts. The upside? Nonprofit workers quickly develop an array of valuable skills that can later be called upon in a corporate setting. Also, there’s no room for boredom at a job in which no two days look exactly like.

Eric Grulke, professor at JWU Online who worked at many government, NGOs/nonprofit organizations throughout the years, agreed, “Wearing multiple hats sounds like it could be overwhelming at first, but once you’ve done it for a while, you might find—like I did—that you love it. From doing data analysis to interviewing stakeholders on their satisfaction with programs, having an ability to shift to many different tasks on the fly is a skill that is highly valued in nonprofit and governmental organizations.”

If you dream of making a difference in the nonprofit sector, your path may include a graduate degree or certificate in Nonprofit Management from Johnson & Wales University Online. Contact us today to learn more about our academic programs designed for aspiring nonprofit professionals.

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