Nonprofits Offer Diverse Opportunities to Make a Difference

Are you looking for more meaning in your work? And are you willing to live on lower compensation than you could earn in the corporate world? Then you might consider a career with a not-for-profit organization.

Nonprofit work presents a unique set of challenges. "In the nonprofit world, you have to go deeper and connect at a human level with what people want, and what will work in their world," says Abby Falik, CEO and founder CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Global Citizen Year, which runs bridge-year programs for new high-school graduates.

The nonprofit sector is a major employer, accounting for 11.4 million jobs or 10.3 percent of all private-sector employment, according to a 2014 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many years, the District has had a higher percentage of nonprofit employment than any state, reaching a high of 26.7 percent in 2011. Nonprofit employment can be countercyclical; during the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath, nonprofit jobs increased while the for-profit workforce shrank.

There are diverse routes into the world of nonprofit employment, whether in health services, education, arts and culture or another field.

Sandie Preiss, vice president for advocacy and access at the Arthritis Foundation in Washington, moved to the nonprofit world after working in health policy and government relations at healthcare company Abbott Labs for 18 years. She holds degrees in government and in public administration.

"I educate policy makers about how their decisions will affect patients’ ability to get treatment in a timely manner," says Preiss, a registered lobbyist. "I really wanted to be part of the patient advocacy world. At the foundation it’s all about change, about being an entrepreneur," says Preiss. "It's about delivering information and empowering people. There are not layers and layers of decision makers, as there are in the corporate world."

Falik's story is very different. "My path to get here was circuitous, from a stint as an organic farmer, to leader of bike trips, to construction forewoman in Nicaragua and then NGO manager in Brazil, and eventually to Harvard Business School," she says.

Many young professionals have an intuitive sense for building a resume with a mix of nonprofit and for-profit experience, Falik says. "Millennials see that they can work in a variety of contexts. The average tenure of these kids in jobs is so short -- there’s a sense of gathering experiences and creating your own path."

Should you considering striking out on your own as a social entrepreneur? Falik says: Not so fast.

“I discourage young people from starting new things," says Falik. "There are already so many more nonprofits than we need. It’s better to find something that works and take it where it needs to go."

Nonprofits can offer unconventional ways to make a difference. "Once we find our purpose we can all find meaningful work by creating our own jobs," says Falik.

John Rossheim (@rossheim) is a freelance journalist who writes about employment trends, careers, healthcare, technology, and travel.


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