More Recent Graduates Working in Non-Profits: Why Should You?

Last week, The New York Times published this article that talks about an unexpected consequence of the difficult economy: that more recent college graduates are working in the non-profit sector, or as they describe, “young college graduates who ended up doing good because the economy did them wrong.”

As a college student, I planned to work in a non-profit organization, and now as a career counselor I often talk with students interested in this field. I’m excited to hear about this trend. I see many students come in with a few misconceptions about work in nonprofits and wanted to address some of these in this post.

Myth #1: Only certain kinds of jobs exist in non-profits. It’s not for me.

Fact: All kinds of jobs exist in the non-profit sector!  In non-profits, there are all the same jobs as in the private sector, plus a few that are specific to non-profits, such as fundraisers and grant-writers. Non-profit jobs provide great work experience as well as a connection to a particular issue or cause. Check out this fun video from Non-Profit Careers Month, celebrated in October 2009:

Myth #2: I won’t make any money in a non-profit.

Fact: Entry-level non-profit salaries are often comparable to jobs in the private sector. In general, because non-profits have fewer resources they may have fewer staff—meaning that as an entry-level employee you might have more responsibility than in an entry-level private sector job. Not only can you get great experience this way, but it makes you a strong candidate for future career opportunities, whether in the non-profit or for-profit sector.

Myth #3: Looking for a job in the non-profit sector is exactly the same as looking for a private-sector job.

Fact: While the process is similar, there are several significant differences—for example, the non-profit field has its own language to consider when writing cover letters (for instance, you apply for a job at an organization, not a company). Additionally, be prepared to talk about your passion and connection to the mission of the organization—it’s not just about being able to do the job, but also about a commitment to helping the organization fulfill its mission. Find ways to communicate your commitment and personal connections to the mission; sometimes doing this while remaining professional can be a challenge—our career counselors are happy to help you figure this out.

Considering going into the Non-Profit World of Work? Check out these web resources:

10 things to know about applying for a nonprofit job

Idealist Career Center

Idealist Guide to Non-Profit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers (free e-book, also available hard copies for purchase)

Idealist Guide to Non-Profit Careers for Sector Switchers and people at mid-career (free e-book, also available hard copies for purchase)

Doing Good, an article on Full-Time Service Programs

Non-Profit Fellowship Programs

You might also be interested in this video, titled “How to Start Working in the Non-Profit Sector.” It features an  interview with Kerry Connor, national recruitment director for Jumpstart, a national non-profit organization that focuses on early intervention for at-risk preschoolers.


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