The Big Picture
Like all management professionals, nonprofit leaders are responsible for the strategies, operations, teams, and outcomes of their organizations. Unlike most for-profit companies of course, nonprofits are mission-driven organizations, measuring themselves by the impact they’re able to have on social or environmental issues like conservation, education, health, poverty, arts, and social services, among others. The most successful nonprofits, however, also recognize the value of a sustainable bottom line.
- The nonprofit sector is growing: there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, compared to 1.2 million in 1999.1
- Nonprofits need leaders: 87% of nonprofits find it somewhat or extremely challenging to recruit new personnel.2
- Where's the diversity? 82% of nonprofit employees are white and 95% of philanthropic organizations are led by Caucasians.3
An ongoing debate exists about the "best" career path for nonprofit management professionals.
One camp argues that to be effective in a nonprofit, “going corporate” first is the best way to gain specific skill sets. Others argue that going the nonprofit route early on provides more relevant experience and opportunities. There’s no right answer to this debate, and with cross-sector collaboration happening more and more, the border between the two paths is becoming increasingly blurry. To make an informed decision about what's right for you, you’ll need an accurate view of what the nonprofit sector looks like:
They're Not all soup kitchens
Not all nonprofits are "direct service" organizations; they range in size, activities, and reach. When organizations like Kaiser Permanente, Kiva, and Net Impact all share the nonprofit moniker, you know there's variety in the space. In fact, many nonprofits look and feel a lot like small businesses, generating millions of dollars in earned revenue each year, in addition to (and sometimes instead of) philanthropic dollars. That means nonprofits need to be just as financially rigorous as any company.
Nonprofit Employees Get Paid
While nonprofits often engage volunteers, they also typically have full-time, paid staff members — who actually make decent salaries! “We’re seeing a smaller gap between some for-profit and nonprofit salaries," says Dana Hagenbuch, vice president of nonprofit search firm Commongood Careers, "even in roles where there has traditionally been a greater discrepancy, such as finance or marketing."
Of those offering lower salaries, many provide strong benefits packages and flexible work environments instead (not to mention the daily gratification that comes from knowing organizational decisions are fueled by the mission).
Honing your professional skills? Apply within.
While smaller nonprofits may lack the structured training programs of large corporations, professional development opportunities within nonprofits certainly exist. Because many nonprofits are trying to do a lot with a limited budget, there's an opportunity to take on responsibility quickly and collaborate with many different stakeholders, - which helps staff develop diverse and in-depth professional skill sets.