Omar Garrett, a marketing manager with LinkedIn, recently wrote a piece in the New York Times encouraging young people to consider work in nonprofit organizations. He notes that only one in 10 “career-oriented” graduates (those with majors in program like business and engineering) plan to pursue work in a nonprofit. Stating that although other career-paths offer a surer path to financial and professional success, nonprofits need new grads who in turn can gain vital skills and prove themselves in ways that benefit them in the long run.
The problem in Mr. Garrett’s outlook is that he says his experiences in nonprofits not only gave him an invaluable set of skills but that his background helped him enroll in a top MBA program and ultimately land jobs in leading tech companies. He states that experience in nonprofits opens up many more doors that it closes. He closes with a reminder that a high salary will await those who put in their time.
I see it differently. The doors opened by nonprofits aren’t primarily for those of us who choose this work. Those doors open up for the people we serve—those most in need who have had countless doors slammed in their faces.
Without nonprofits, our society would struggle. Vulnerable individuals would be neglected, the safety net would fall apart, and our economy would suffer. In 2012, there were 2.3 million nonprofits in the U.S, alone. Our organizations contributed over $800 billion to the U.S economy in 2010, making up 5.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
We work in nonprofits because we can’t imagine doing anything else. We don’t treat them as stepping stones to something greater because we don’t believe that greater work exists. We get degrees in social work, psychology, sociology, public policy, public health, and other service-oriented professions because we know our ultimate goal: work for charities, foundations, associations, and other nonprofit organizations that seek to make the world a more equitable, just, and frankly, kind place for people in need. We serve those who have been disenfranchised, disengaged, and disregarded by others.
Some may see our work as naïve, that we can’t make a meaningful difference without significant resources or business degrees. Others call it “God’s work” and pity us as they might pity our clients. Whether we are angels or fools, those of us fortunate enough to be nonprofit professionals work among some of the brightest, hardest working people in the country. Many of us are savvy enough to earn good livings while helping to make our communities better. We are the resourceful ones who find solutions to seemingly intractable problems, make ends meet with increasingly limited funds, and help people find the resource at the highest premium: hope.
Nonprofit work is a choice—one that we go into willingly and one that rewards us far more than we could ever imagine.