When I was eight, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I was older. I distinctly remember responding, “I want to be a philanthropist” as if philanthropy was the same type of response as artist, teacher, actor or athlete. My mom laughed and told me, “You have to have lots of money to be a philanthropist.” This was crushing news and seemed so unfair! Most jobs require a degree and work experience but my dream job had one requirement that wasn’t (and still currently isn’t) attainable for me – a ton of money!
Fast forward to starting college and my mom asked me the same question again, “What do you want to do after college?” This time I had an answer that sounded much more realistic, “I want to work in non-profit.” The truth is, I didn’t know what that really meant – I just knew that it involved helping people! I spent the next four years majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, interning, volunteering…..and partying. It was a fabulous time and incredibly inspiring yet I didn’t quite have a firm grasp on the reality of non-profit and what it would mean to dedicate my #postgrad life to working in this sector.
Now that I’ve worked in non-profit for over six years here are some important takeaways to note when deciding to work in the field.
Non-Profit and the IRS
In a nutshell, the IRS determines non-profit/charity status. Yes, that’s correct, the Internal Revenue Service makes the decision on what is or isn’t considered a charity. The main tenants of a non-profit are 1) that it must serve the broad public’s interest and 2) that none of the earnings may benefit a private individual, shareholder or member. In other words, the funds raised must benefit the cause. The 501©3 tax status ensures that the largest percentage of funds can be directed to the cause because the organization isn’t being taxed by the federal government. Additionally, when individuals donate to a 501©3 their donations are tax-deductible and they are able to “write off” these donations on their yearly taxes. It’s the government’s way of saying, “donate to charity!!!”
Here’s another really important note – there are a lot of worthy organizations that don’t fall into non-profit. These organizations that do not qualify as non-profit are still affecting meaningful change but due to their internal organization, political alignment and/or funding source they cannot qualify as a 501©3.
Non-Profit is a Business
There are over one million registered non-profits in the US and they serve an incredible spectrum of causes ranging from universities to animal shelters. One of the most important things to remember is that all non-profits are businesses that serve a charitable cause. In most non-profits, there are internal management structures, earning goals, reports and structure.
The goal of any non-profit is to allocate as many funds as possible to the cause which usually means that many of the amenities of a for-profit business aren’t offered. I’ve worked at NPO’s that didn’t have wireless internet…..in 2016. That being said, working in the non-profit sector usually means taking on responsibilities that aren’t in a job title like volunteering your time and being flexible. It’s a demanding field but it is rewarding!
The non-profit sector is such a broad category and if you are drawn to a specific cause you can likely find a position matching your experience. The most common jobs that you will find are in development. Development roles are responsible for securing revenue streams through donor cultivation and stewardship. So yes…. development is basically a fancy way of saying sales.
Getting a Job in Non Profit
When deciding to get into the non-profit sector there are a couple of steps you can take to get into the field.
- Volunteering: Take time to make a name for yourself in the field you’re interested in and learn more about the structure of the organization.
- Networking: Talk to your network of friends and see if they know of any job openings. Most non-profits have volunteer boards and you never know who in your friend group might have connections!
- Job Boards: There are a couple of great job boards dedicated solely to the non-profit job hunt, my personal favorite is Idealist.
Non-profit is an incredible field and there are some very tangible perks! Did you know that if you work in the non-profit sector for ten years that some (or all) of your student loans are forgiven? You can learn more here.
Good luck in your non-profit job search!!