Like work in all the helping professions, leadership in a non-profit enterprise is not just a job. It is a calling.
During the Great Recession, non-profit organizations took a brutal beating. Charitable giving dropped as sharply as the Dow-Jones industrials, and dedicated volunteers suddenly had to dedicate their best efforts to finding new jobs. Now, however, not-for-profits are staging a dramatic comeback, and they seek energetic young leaders like you. Recruiters seek distinguished recent graduates ready for exceptionally hard work in service of the nation´s poorest, most sadly afflicted people.
Make no mistake: You will not get rich directing a non-profit enterprise. You will make more than the average teacher, approximately the same as a registered nurse, and considerably less than your classmates on Wall Street. You will, however, be handsomely rewarded. A child´s expression of heartfelt gratitude has far greater value than a truckload of stock options. A hard-working mother´s warm handshake and wish, “Dios lo bendigo,” more than justifies hundred-hour work weeks and dirt under your fingernails.
Major mostly in hard work and leadership.
From Anthropology to Zoology, every major teaches critical thinking and problem-solving, the essentials of non-profit leadership. Not surprisingly, the majority of new non-profit leaders come from the liberal arts because their majors immerse them in humanity´s most pernicious problems. Diplomas in hand, they feel prepared to solve profound, pressing problems in the real world. Recruiters stress, however, all majors are welcome because non-profit work demands versatility, persistence and stamina more than specialized knowledge. “It´s hands-on and hands-dirty work, and not everyone can do it,” says one veteran recruiter.
Non-profit recruiters emphasize character and charisma count far more than credentials. They also stress the importance of previous volunteer experience. While you pursue your degree, embrace a cause and go to work for an organization that champions it. Recruiters illustrate how a wide range of majors develop skills non-profit leadership demands:
• Public Administration and Sociology majors wanted. You must understand how to organize, manage and motivate people. Therefore, you must develop insight into principles of human behavior and group dynamics. You especially you must understand how to develop strength from diversity. The organization will train you to comply with personnel and tax laws, but you must find a major that draws-out your natural empathy and compassion. Public Administration and Sociology naturally develop your capacity to see the world through other people´s eyes.
• Marketing and Management majors encouraged to apply. No matter how much your donors contribute, your non-profit organization always will need more money, and it will require wringing every ounce of value from every single penny in the budget. In addition to meeting with potential benefactors, you will devote a great deal of time to writing grant proposals, soliciting “in-kind” contributions and cultivating business partnerships. Prepare for countless hours with financial analysts and accountants who will advise you how to manage, invest and distribute your organization´s money for maximum service and minimum waste.
• Communications and P.R. majors welcome. Always and everywhere, you will represent and advocate for your organization and cause. You will chat-up people standing in line at the grocery store and post office, and you will write press releases for every event and activity you sponsor. You will develop membership and sponsorship campaigns, and you should expect to hear your voice on radio and see yourself on television. The more you command the language and communicate persuasively, the better you will serve your organization.
• Artists, musicians and actors cordially invited. Frequently challenged to think well “outside the box,” leaders of non-profit enterprises must trust their instinct and intuition at least as much as they rely on their intellect. People who have developed their imaginative capacities and become proficient in “right-brained” thinking often bring precisely the visionary qualities non-profit leadership demands.
Betsy Dollar, Director of the Springfield, Illinois Art Association breaks it down: “An ‘average´ work day includes resolution of personnel and budget issues, a few hours of aggressive fundraising and public relations, some time devoted to evaluation and critique of promising Midwestern artists´ latest work, some quality time with my over-worked and under-loved staff, and attention to the inevitable heating and plumbing problems that come with working in a historic landmark. Yes, I have my very own toolkit.” Smiling, Ms. Dollar agrees, “My MFA in paper-making did not exactly prepare me for all of this,” but she immediately adds, “I would not trade the joy of this job for anything in the world.”
Former non-profit employee, Janet Love writes about the non profit world in blogs and magazines. If you want to find out more, she recommends checking out the non profit marketing ideas at nosamis.org.