I’ve met a lot of recent college graduates who tell me they want to work in the nonprofit sector because they want to help people. It’s true that working for a nonprofit organization can be rewarding because you’re dedicating your time and efforts to a particular issue. But knowing whether or not a full-time nonprofit career is right for you is a big decision that requires time and evaluation. It isn’t as simple as “wanting to help people” – like all careers, working in the nonprofit sector has its downside. Nonprofit jobs typically pay less than for-profit jobs and often involve long work hours and high stress situations. You may have romanticized the experience of dedicating yourself to a cause and not considered some of the day-to-day realities your job would require.
People who work in the nonprofit sector are interested in non-monetary benefits, they need to be dynamic and innovative, and they are ready for new and unexpected challenges everyday. Not everyone is ready or able to work full-time for a nonprofit. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can still help a cause by volunteering your time, donating money, or joining the board of directors of an organization in the future. There are many ways of working towards change, and it’s important to find the right fit for your own life. Before you decide whether or not a career in the nonprofit sector is right for you, here are three questions to consider.
1. What kinds of issues am I passionate about?
There are thousands of nonprofit organizations dedicated to everything from environmental sustainability to human rights, youth activism to healthcare education. Before you decide to pursue a career in nonprofit, think about the specific issues that are most important to you. In what areas would you like to make a difference? After considering your interests, you can begin researching organizations that work for change in these areas. If you’re interested in women’s rights, you may decide to work at an organization fighting for policy changes that support reproductive justice; or you may want to help women on a local level at a women’s shelter. Nonprofit organizations range in size, funding, and agenda – knowing where your interests lie can help you find organizations you’d like to work for.
2. What kind of role would I like to play in the nonprofit sector?
Consider the roles you are interested in within an organization, currently and in the future. Do you dream of running your own non-profit foundation? Would you like to be the person writing grants and fundraising? Maybe you are working at an executive or managerial level. The roles available at a food bank or grassroots organization will differ from those at a hospital or museum. You may need to pursue further education or gain more relevant experience for certain roles. It’s important to think about where you might fit in an organization based on your skills, talents, and ambitions.
3. What kind of experience have I had in the nonprofit sector?
Choosing a career path requires a certain amount of introspection, but it also takes substantial fieldwork. The only way to know something for sure is to try it! You may have considered the issues that are important to you and the role you’d like to play within a nonprofit, but have you had any hands-on experience? Organizations typically look to hire people who have both relevant experience and have shown a dedication to a particular issue. Consider a volunteer or intern position, if you haven’t already, so that you get a real sense of what it is like to work in a nonprofit setting. Set up an informational interview with someone who is doing work for an organization that interests you. Their experience will give you a better perspective of what their job entails.
There are many people passionate about working in the nonprofit sector – the long hours and possible frustrations of the work are overshadowed by their dedication to making a difference. If you have taken the time to consider your priorities, have had hands-on experience and have talked to people working in positions that interest you, you may decide that pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector is the right choice. Best of luck!