EARLY CAREER ADVICE: Careers in the Non-Profit sector – Part 3

Published: January 30, 2013

PAVI TOOR
VANCOUVER DESI

University graduation

As a college or university student, will you be able to graduate as close to debt-free as possible? If so, that would position you well to pursue a career in the non-profit sector. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The non-profit sector offers many opportunities that are satisfying personally and professionally but most careers in the non-profit sector are far from lucrative. It is important for students to have realistic salary expectations if they are pursuing a career in this sector and to keep their fixed costs low.

Competitive Strategy is a landmark book published in 1980 by Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter. The book deals with strategy at a high level. Mr. Porter argued that overall cost leadership was one generic strategy a firm can take to create superior profits. The basic premise was if you keep your costs lower than anyone else’s, you can sustain profits. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is a good example of this strategy.

So how does it apply to students interested in a career in the non-profit sector?

First of all there is a huge disconnect between what students think they will be earning after graduation and reality. In a recent survey Canadian university students were asked what they plan to earn. Female students (born after 1980) said an average of $67,766 five years after graduation and male students expected to earn $84,868.

The average wage of Canadians aged 25 to 54 was $48,458 per year but the wages are much lower in the non-profit sector. So the first thing students will have to do is be realistic, lower their expectations and plan accordingly.

There are a wide range of jobs in the non-profit sector in Canada and the U.S. and their annual salary varies greatly depending on skills, experience, and region. I did a quick scan on available jobs in Canada with starting salaries and qualifications and this is what I found:

Follow-Up Support Worker, YMCA (Edmonton)
Salary: $32,900/yr
Qualifications:
• College Diploma or University Degree in Human Services or equivalent,
• Standard First Aid and CPR-C, Child Welfare & Police Security Clearance and WHMIS Certification
• 2 years of related work experience preferred
• Working knowledge of the Housing First model, group facilitation, individual assessment, program planning and promotion, outcome evaluation, marketing and public relations

Graphic Design Manager, Free The Children (Toronto)
Salary: $35,000-$45,000/yr
Qualifications:
• No Degree requirement but knowledge in the following areas is necessary: Excellent command of Mac platform, CS5 adobe software, Illustrator, In Design, Photoshop, and knowledge of web design.
• Minimum two years experience working in a leadership role as part of a creative team

Executive Director, Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia
Salary: $45,000+/yr
Qualifications:
• A university degree in a related discipline
• Experience in human resource management, financial management and fundraising and project management
• Knowledge of federal and provincial legislation affecting charities
• Proficiency in word processing and financial management software

I know some students reviewing the non-profit salary numbers are going to think that it shouldn’t be about the money but about helping people and being happy. The HR Council on Non-Profit website states that one quarter (24.6 per cent) of employees surveyed in the non-profit sector indicated they were currently looking for a new job and the most frequent reason they give is dissatisfaction with salary.

Parents have to ask their children questions like “Do you enjoy the two or three exotic vacations the family goes on every year? Would you like a nice house with luxury cars? Do you enjoy always eating out, including specialty coffees from Starbucks? “ If so then the students and parents need to look at these salaries again and ask some tough questions especially if their children plan to go to university and will be required to take on massive student loans or if the family home will need to be remortgaged to finance the child’s higher education.

But there is good news. A lot of positions in the non-profit sector don’t require bachelors or masters degrees but specialized skills. It makes financial sense to graduate with minimal student loans and keep your fixed costs low. It makes little sense to graduate with $50,000 worth of student loans and then make monthly payments in the $700 month range for the next 10+ years on a degree that wasn’t required to get the job.

I came across a few articles on the Moneysense magazine website of students who graduated debt free – check them out:

http://www.moneysense.ca/2012/12/26/how-i-became-a-landlord/

http://www.moneysense.ca/2012/12/26/wow-i-graduated-without-student-debt/

I recommend extending the time it takes to complete your education and working part-time, as some employers and non-profits have tuition reimbursement policies; if you qualify they will pay for your university courses. There is also the option of living at home as long as possible if the opportunity presents itself.

As Porter mentioned, keep your costs lower than everyone else. If a candidate doesn’t have high fixed costs (i.e student loans, car loan, mortgage, credit card debt) they may be able to take up an entry level job in the non-profit sector that people with high fixed costs can’t afford to take.

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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