4 Reasons To Consider A Career In NonProfits

The nonprofit sector is now the third-largest segment of the U.S. workforce. How to know if this is the field for you.

4 Reasons To Consider A Career In NonProfits
[Photo: Flickr user Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography]

If you are at a point of transition in your life–whether you’re moving from high school to college, college to career, or making a mid-life shift–now is the perfect time to close the gap between what you do and what matters to you. It’s time to have more than just a job–do something you truly care about, make a difference in the world, and earn a living in the process.


If this rings true for you, then you should consider a cause-driven compassionate career in a nonprofit, foundation, international non-governmental organization (NGO), social enterprise, or corporate social responsibility program. Get all the misconceptions about non-profits out of your head–that they don’t pay, or the job prospects are worthless.

The nonprofit sector alone is now the third-largest segment of the U.S. workforce, following retail and manufacturing. Around 1.8 million nonprofit agencies are located in the United States, employing 13.7 million people and accounting for nearly 10% of the nation’s workforce. These jobs pay $322 billion in wages. The combined assets of U.S. nonprofits are nearly $3 trillion, making the sector the seventh-largest economy in the world–larger than the economies of Brazil, Russia, and Canada.

In addition, nonprofit wages increased by 29% between 2000 and 2010 while the rest of the economy was in the tank. Management-level jobs in nonprofits and foundations now pay an average of $50,000 to $75,000 a year, while average executive positions pay between $75,000 and $150,000, according to a 2012 study by Johns Hopkins University, with statistics supplied from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This field also comes with the opportunity to defer loan payments while simultaneously reducing overall loans. In fact, working at certain organizations for four or five years will result in a complete forgiveness of all Perkins loans. If you are a college graduate with $25,000 to $100,000 in loan debt, then this is a huge incentive.

1. Be Proud Millennials Are Wired Differently

We’re in the midst of a huge demographic shift. In the United States, around 75 million baby boomers are on their way out of the workforce, and 50% of nonprofits are hiring in 2015–versus 34% of for-profits–according to job placement experts at Nonprofit HR. If you are a millennial–born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s–your generation will be 75% of the workforce within a decade. That means it’s an opportune time to hone your knowledge, skills, and experience.


No matter what your fields of interest, you may have at least one terrific advantage–you’re simply wired a bit differently. More specifically, you have the unique ability to process vast amounts of competing information with lightning speed, and can cull out what is most authentic and true. Raised from day one in this digital age, you discern data in a way we’ve never seen before. Moreover, you can communicate seamlessly across broad and diverse populations, and mobilize beyond traditional boundaries in a nanosecond. Together, these qualities allow you to hold others accountable and provoke social change with greater efficiency and ingenuity than any other generation.

You’re sadly inheriting a massive global mess, but you’ll also be able to tackle our planet’s problems in a new way. Talent defines impact–no matter what the field–and cause-focused organizations will need your talent as much as anyone.

2. Explore Academic Options

Degrees in public administration, business administration, nonprofit management, education, health, or social work are all valuable to have in the compassionate career realm. Nonprofit certification and degree programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, including at many state universities and a growing number of prestigious institutions, such as Stanford, Duke, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins University.

Often people get a masters in public administration or a masters in public health, with an added concentration in nonprofit management. While going to school, you should also take advantage of opportunities to network and get field experience. Being actively involved in your community–both inside and outside of the academic setting–will help you work your way into the field.

3. Create Your Own Path

Compassionate careers are where you can blend passion, purpose, and profession. There are two sides of this coin, however. It’s one thing to inspire and encourage people to seek a compassionate career, and it’s another for cause-focused organizations to pay attention to talent recruitment and development. They could do a better job at this.

It’s important to plan your own career trajectory, to go in with eyes wide open, and be deliberate about both cause and culture fit–that accounts for 89% of an individual’s success on the job. Check out this link to take your own personal culture assessment.


The sooner you realize that you’ll most likely need to navigate your own way forward, the better. Whether your next move is lateral or vertical, you can start by shadowing, cross-training, and finding mentor opportunities. You should also leverage any stretch assignments that you’re offered, in which you can go beyond your day-to-day tasks, explore new paths, and prove your worth in other areas.

4. Be True to Yourself

One of our favorite quotes comes from former President Jimmy Carter: “The things that make you successful in life are the ones that you cannot see–peace, humility, service, love, and compassion.”

Or, as David Bowker, a lawyer who spent eight years fighting a free-speech case on behalf of international development workers, says: “It’s not to say that you can’t pursue good things as a for-profit company. It just means that sometimes you have an internal conflict between what’s right and what’s most profitable, and that makes it hard to consistently and effectively pursue your values. Nonprofits and NGOs have other challenges, but not that particular constraint. As a result, I think of them as our collective conscience.”

The sand in our hourglass is running dangerously low, so pick your cause and get involved. The opportunities are endless.

Alexandra Mitchell and Jeffrey Pryor are coauthors of Compassionate Careers: Making A Living By Making A Difference. They’re also the cofounders of Pathfinder Solutions, a nonprofit research and advisory firm. Jeff and Alex’s vision is for people from all walks of life to feel empowered to create the world they want to live in.