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The Nonprofit Work Arena
One million nonprofits employ nearly 10 million people, or nearly 8 percent of the American
workforce. Many nonprofits are small, employing only one or two people; others employ more
than 100 individuals. Job seekers often overlook the nonprofit sector as a source for employment,
not because it offers very few jobs, but because they know very little about nonprofit
While nonprofit organizations may have a low profile amongst job seekers, most people are
acquainted with nonprofits through means of membership, events or direct service contact. If you
think about it, you already know a lot of nonprofit workers. Your church has many full-time
employees, from relief specialists to receptionists. If you are a member of a labor union or belong
to a professional association, you participate in a nonprofit organization. If you donate money or
blood to the American Red Cross, then you are already a part of a nonprofit.
You Do What?
Public misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, sometimes places the nonprofit professional
in an awkward position. I spend a lot of time explaining my work, my profession, expected
outcomes and what I
every day at work, to people outside the profession. Even my relatives
get confused, even suspicious, asking, What do you
do is believe in the organization I work with. I help an agency pursue its mission
statement. I hold a valued place in society because I perform important work. I play a significant
role in helping worthy causes succeed. I am a developmental professional. I am not a hired
solicitor who "hits people up for money."
There is a great deal of fun because while nonprofit work is often grueling, it is also enormously
satisfying. Few professions provide such a great degree of gratification. My rewards are often
unequaled because they are metered in human currency. Nonprofit work has the elements of a
vocation and a job. It combines service with skills.
Where Do You Do It?
Many of the larger nonprofits locate their national or state headquarters in large metropolitan
areas such as Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Larger agencies
have full-time staffs offering excellent job opportunities and career advancement. However, more
than 90 percent of all nonprofits operate at the local level, generating millions of job opportunities.
They are community-based organizations with smaller staffs. Salaries are usually less than those
offered at the state or national headquarters.
Many people who work at nonprofits found their way into the profession through the back door.
Nonprofit executives use metaphors like, I sort of fell into it, I backed into it, or, It was really an