I should probably just skip career day

Typewriter KeysGood afternoon all you earnest, eager to learn young men and women. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to talk to you today, when you’re supposed to be focused on ME, rather than huddled in a corner with your friends, as far away from all the parents as you can possibly get (remember the school holiday party last year?).

Today, of course, we’re talking about careers.

Now, I know you’ve heard gobs about the benefits of the computer science, business, medical, finance and other industries from all the other parents and are pumped up about 401(k) plans and luxury cars.

Well, if you would do me the great big favor of setting all that aside, we’ve arrived at the time to talk about …. (drumroll please) working for nonprofits!

You know …. nonprofits? Well, maybe you’ve heard of charities or NGOs? Same thing.

We’re the ones who organize the soccer clubs or little league sports teams your parents forced you into when you were younger. We’re the food bank where you sorted cans as a service project last year. We’re the church or temple you don’t attend often enough. We’re also the industry that builds wells in countries where clean water isn’t a given, we’re the thrift store where you donate your old clothes and toys, the shelter where you picked out your family dog.

The bell ringers on the corner at Christmas? Nonprofits.

That term nonprofit? That doesn’t mean there’s no money involved. It just means that money isn’t the object. The point is people. Or maybe it’s the environment or the arts, or religion, or education, or abandoned ring-spotted mole slugs. Whatever. The end result isn’t necessarily about your boss getting a new vacation home, or keeping your stockholders happy (although nonprofit professionals are certainly allowed to be happy and have homes).

What do you need for a nonprofit career? Pretty much whatever you need to work in for-profit, actually. Nonprofits need your accounting degrees, your marketing, programing, doctoring, teaching and sciencey-stuff.

On top of that nonprofits also need your ability to manage time well, communicate effectively, read spreadsheets, manage budgets, and write technical reports as well as flowing narrative marketing copy. There’s also that whole “other duties as assigned” thing at the bottom of your job description. That’s nonprofit speak for make sure your tetanus booster is up to date.

You may also need some skill in supervising people, many of whom, by virtue of the industry you’re in, are vastly over qualified in some areas of the job they’re supposed to do, and possibly under qualified in other areas, but on top of everything share a passion for whatever cause you’re addressing.

Passion is good, because you likely won’t have the resources to get them any extra training, or any kind of recognition, or even offer competitive salaries or benefits. So they’ll need to hold onto that passion.

Oh and in the supervisory area, it wouldn’t hurt to work on your interpersonal skills. That whole snark thing you use with your family? Keep that at home. You whip that sarcastic tone and sardonic wit out at work and you’ll be posting an opening for a new program director or bookkeeper every week. Passion only goes so far.

The pay? Well …. who needs a great salary when you know you’re working on behalf of the ring-spotted mole slugs about which you’re so enthusiastic?

Retirement plan? We’re fully vested in hope and optimism over here. And clean living. Eat nutritious food and exercise. You need to keep your health well into old age.

(Oh, and as an aside, it might help you to think about the whole “marrying well” thing right now. And start socking away the milk money so you can afford to buy the occasional lottery ticket when you’re of age. A little extra cash once in a while is super helpful when you want to do things like buy clothes or make a car payment)

Speaking of clothes and car payments, some of the benefits of working in the nonprofit industry are less well recognized, like developing the ability to look sharp in thrift store clothing, while driving your eight year-old Prius. Those are some valuable skills, right there.

Asking for money will be an important part of what you do in nonprofit work. I’ll bet you didn’t realize that every weekend you cajole some cash out of your mom so you can go to the movies with friends, you’re honing an important skill.

But what if working actual office hours in an actual nonprofit office don’t suit you?

Quit your job working for one nonprofit a time and work for several at once as a consultant. The benefits of a home office include the joy of adding tech support, receptionist and bookkeeper duties to your day, while doing away with any pesky sense of job security.

On the down side, you’ll need to learn the art of ignoring the household tasks that inevitably accumulate while you’re trying to get actual work done.

I know, who are we kidding? You’ve had gobs of practice ignoring housekeeping already. In fact, I’ll bet you’re already a pro.

Above all, when you’re working as a nonprofit professional, you can rest assured your life, while rarely easy, will be fairly satisfying. What’s better than knowing you’ve put time into making the common good just a little bit better? Even if it is for the ring-spotted mole slug.

In fact, over time you’ll find that folks in other industries (ones that that perhaps come with better pay and office equipment that doesn’t date back to the Pony Express) sometimes wonder if working for a cause, is actually a little better than raking in the scratch day in and day out.

Oh and, if things don’t work out for you in nonprofits, don’t worry, there’s always the next most rewarding and lucrative career to fall back on.

And I’m sure you’ll rock as a writer.


I blog for votes. Yours is much appreciated. Thank you.


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  1. Well, since you blog for votes, you got mine!

    Although I enjoy your wit and fine writing, I\’m seriously very impressed by your living this life!
    I\’d like to say thank you for all the good that you do. I\’m grateful there are people in this world who are so committed to making it a better place for all of us.

    1. That\’s so kind of you Deborah. I actually fell into my career by accident. Which is another way of saying I didn\’t know what else I was supposed to do with a degree in Literature. But it\’s certainly been satisfying.