Working for a Nonprofit

The labor force in the United States works for one of three sectors of our economy: government (also known as the public sector), business (also known as the private sector), and the nonprofit sector.

In 2008, the nonprofit sector still demonstrated its value as a steady source of economic activity. Since the 2001 recession, employment in the government and for-profit sectors in the state has increased an average of less than one percent per year. Minnesota’s nonprofit workforce, however, has grown an average of three percent per year. By 2008, nonprofits employed one out of every nine workers in the state. This same trend held true within all six regions of the state.

What are the Differences between Nonprofit Jobs and Jobs in Other Sectors?

Beyond the current statistics on the size and scope of the nonprofit sector in the U.S. and in Minnesota, there are three important points which are central to understanding nonprofits as employers:

  1. When nonprofits provide services to the public, they act in ways that are qualitatively different than the way business and government service providers do.
  2. Nonprofits play an important societal role in strengthening this country’s democracy.
  3. The autonomy and flexibility of the nonprofit organization is essential to the achievements of the sector.

Given the size and history of the nonprofit sector, one might think that the differences in service effectiveness between nonprofits, business, and government would be well-documented but they are not. However, comparative studies have shown that:

  • Nonprofit child care tends to be of higher quality than private child care chains.
  • Nonprofit nursing homes use less sedatives than private nursing homes.
  • Nonprofit vocational training has lower loan default rates than private vocational training.
  • Nonprofit housing experiences fewer tenant-caused damages than private or government rental housing.
  • Clients of nonprofit service agencies report that they feel better treated than clients of government agencies.

The important factor in each of these situations is the relationship between the organization providing the service and the person receiving it. Job seekers should note that nonprofits tend to attract and hire employees who are motivated by intrinsic rewards – the feeling that having a meaningful job is just as important as the salary. Intrinsically motivated employees are especially effective in inspiring trust, openness, and a personal connection with the people they serve. Frequently, nonprofit job interviews address the motivation and intention of the prospective employee. Common questions include:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • How do you feel about our mission?
  • What personal connections do you have to our work?

Therefore it is important for job seekers to explore their intentions for seeking employment in the nonprofit sector.

What is it Like to Work for a Nonprofit?

Nonprofit jobs give employees the freedom and opportunity to break new ground every day. Often nonprofit employees are developing and implementing new programs and enhanced procedures to make the organization run more effectively and efficiently. Nonprofit employees learn something new every week. In many nonprofit organizations, there are many jobs to do and not enough people to do them. As a result, nonprofit employees find themselves learning new skills like copy writing, desktop publishing, policy advocacy, event planning, and accounting management to fill gaps in the organization. Therefore, nonprofit employees are continually gathering new skills that they can carry with them to other jobs.

Because some nonprofit jobs are flexible in terms of their education and work experience requirements, the career track for a motivated employee can be fast – but this usually means jumping to another organization because of the limited number of positions in most organizations.

Nonprofit jobs also tend to be flexible and to grow with the employee. The opportunities increase as responsibilities shift within an organization or programs grow and change.

Nonprofit employees report higher overall job satisfaction than employees in government or business. Nonprofit employees rate their jobs highly because they give them the opportunity to:

  • Do things that don’t go against their conscience.
  • Do things for other people.
  • Use their own judgment.
  • Utilize their own methods of doing the job.
  • Do something that makes use of their abilities.
  • Derive a great feeling of accomplishment from doing their job.

Have your Student Loans Forgiven by Working in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Project on Student Debt helps student loan borrowers learn about two new federal loan programs: Income-Based Repayment (IBR) and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness were created in 2007 as part of a new federal law.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness allows federal student loan borrowers who work in certain kinds of jobs to forgive remaining debt after 10 years of eligible employment and qualifying loan payments. (During those 10 years, the Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan can help keep your loan payments affordable.) This program is for people with federal student loans who work in a wide range of "public service" jobs, including jobs in government and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

In most cases, eligibility is based on whether you work for an eligible employer. Your job is eligible if you:

  • are employed by any nonprofit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization;
  • are employed by the federal government, a state government, local government, or tribal government (this includes the military and public schools and colleges); or
  • serve in a full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps position.
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