A Search for Purpose: Reasons to Consider Working at a Nonprofit

There are a lot of good reasons why. The Nonprofit Times recently released its top 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For list. The pollsters concluded that nonprofit employees are happier than private sector workers. In nearly all categories, employees rated their job satisfaction above 85 percent. Those in the top 10 had approval ratings of 90 percent or better.

As a nonprofit recruiter and staffing agent, I have had to counter misperceptions about what it’s like to work for a nonprofit, from low pay to dilapidated buildings and equipment. The face of nonprofits has changed. In fact, one of the reasons nonprofit employees are happier is because they work in a less corporate and more team-building environment. Higher salaries in the private sector went away with the economic downturn. Director-level positions at nonprofit are now competitive with mid-level managers at corporations.

If a fat paycheck is your motivation than a nonprofit might not be for you. Nonprofits want to hire people who are passionate about the mission. But nonprofits are businesses too. They have budgets, set goals and may require long hours. The mission is what drives you.

“A lot of things translate from the private world into nonprofits,” said Jim Struthers, Chief Development Officer and Assistant Director of the Communities Program for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a Careers In Nonprofits client. “You’re selling your mission. That’s no different than trying to get somebody to buy your jeans or come to your restaurant to eat. The same principles of marketing translate into nonprofit work.”

There is more room at the top at nonprofits and it’s only going to get roomier. According to a survey published last year in the Philanthropy Journal, about 67 percent of nonprofit executives plan to retire by 2016. Like any other business, these organizations are looking to fill their pipeline of workers and groom future leaders. Now could be your chance. Nonprofits value the skills that private sector managers can bring, most importantly, the ability to do more with less.

Struthers used to work in the private sector as an event planner, marketer and fundraiser.
“When I would say I planned events, some people would say, ‘Oh, so you get to go to a lot of great parties. Planning events is a lot of work,” Struthers said. “I don’t think that people understand that nonprofits, when they do events, aren’t saying, ‘Hey, let’s have a party and invite 1500 of our friends.’ It’s part of our business, involves months of planning and, of course, figuring out the best way to raise money and hit the event’s goal.”

Promotions typically happen faster in the nonprofit sector. A manager at a for-profit company could easily make the move to director of a nonprofit. The fact that nonprofits often have more exposure and bigger projects helps supplant the bigger job title.

Hard work is rewarded but nonprofits do experience layoffs. “As with any industry, the economy plays a role. But as to job security, if you’re good at your job,put in the time and effort it takes to be successful, your position is pretty secure, as it is in any sector” Struthers said.

Nonprofits invest in training, so you don’t have to be an expert when you walk through the door. Yet there are now many institutions offering program and certifications in nonprofit management, event fundraising and development That shows how the world has changed looking at this field,’’ Struthers said. “With these opportunities, there are more chances to move into nonprofits.”

Check out a nonprofit up close by volunteering. That way, you can better assess whether a career at a nonprofit is for you. To learn more about nonprofit careers, check out the “featured opportunities” on the Careers In Nonprofits home page.

Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.