EARLY CAREER ADVICE: Careers in the Non-Profit Sector – Part 1

Published: January 15, 2013


Volunteering for a non-profit organization is usually the first step towards working fo one. Marie-France Coallier/PNG

In my earlier posts I discussed the importance of current high school and university students obtaining work experience to assist students and their parents in identifying early on where the in-demand careers are, as well as the skills required to be successful in those careers.

I know there are educators and parents that might feel that the goal of educational institutions should not be to train students like robots for “corporation” jobs where the only goal is to maximize profits.

Some students are more interested in making a positive difference in people’s lives and in the community. That’s great and we need more people like that in our society. These students should consider careers in the non-profit sector.

Non-profit is defined as a corporation or an association that conducts business for the benefit of the general public without shareholders and without a profit motive. A vast number of organizations qualify for non-profit status under the various definitions. Non-profit organizations include churches, soup kitchens, charities, political associations, sports leagues, Colleges and Universities, hospitals, and museums.

The non-profit sector is an enormous contributor to the economy and employs a large number of people in North America:

• 1.2 million people perform paid work for close to 69,000 non-profit organizations in Canada. This translates into more than 7 per cent of the overall Canadian workforce.

• In the United States, non-profits employed 13.5 million individuals, or approximately 10 per cent of the country’s workforce.

The non-profit sector is uniquely positioned to offer a range of careers that are engaging and rewarding but it is not for the faint of heart or for people who simply want to “do good”. Non-profits must satisfy at least two customer groups: their donors, the users of their services, and sometimes other stakeholders as well.

Funding seems to be a key concern for many people working in the social services sector. Non-profits such as the Salvation Army, United Way, and the Red Cross rely on donations from several sources to continue operations. From the research I have come across, funding from government sources has been declining over the years so they have to rely more on private donors who continue to pressure non-profits to account for and improve results. Some non-profits call it “measurable impact”.

In a tough economy non-profits will continue to compete with other non-profits for funding and donations. They will be forced to make tough choices in order to balance budgets which could be by reducing program services, laying off staff, and relying more on volunteers. This at a time demand for their services will continue to increase.

Non-profits need skilled people to do more with less resources in a rapidly changing external environment. They need high caliber people who are comfortable with innovation and continuous improvement, the ones who frequently ask themselves and their organizations if there is a way to deliver services that are better, faster, and cheaper.

In order to qualify for jobs in the non-profit sector current high school and university students should start by volunteering with non-profits that they are interested in and even apply for part-time jobs if they are available. I recommend enrolling in high school work experience or university co-op programs to gain work experience. Remember that many skills students learn during their work experience terms in private and public sectors are transferable to the non-profit sector.

Pavi Toor is a Human Resources Manager and operates the site www.careersafterschool.com. He can be reached at pavi@careersafterschool.com.

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