Working for a nonprofit is not just a job – it is a mission, passion and calling. Employers in the nonprofit industry don’t merely want their employees’ intellect; they want their hearts and souls as well, especially at the upper management levels. It may sound daunting, but the nonprofit sector offers a great potential to effect change, to strive for what you most believe in and help make the world a better place.
In 2010, the non-profit sector employed 10.7 million people. That equates to about 10% of America’s private workforce. Only two industries, retail trade and manufacturing, employ more people.
In tough economic times, demand for the services that non-profits provide increases drastically. Earlier this year, Johns Hopkins University reported a steady annual increase of 1 to 3% in nonprofit employment from 2000 to 2010, even in the worst years of the recession. For example, in fiscal year 2009, when for-profit employment decreased by 6.2%, nonprofit employment grew by 1.2%.
Looking ahead, growth is expected to continue at a faster pace. The 2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found 43% of their nonprofit survey respondents increased their staff size in 2011, which was up from 34% in 2010, and 43% planned to create and fill new positions in 2012.
Nonprofit executive directors oversee many aspects of an organization from creating, implementing and evaluating programs to fundraising to marketing and communications. Most executive directors are even tasked with recruiting and developing members of the Board of Directors they report to, effectively finding and training their own bosses.
In the current economic climate, fundraising has become a major focus for most nonprofit executive directors. Growing and diversifying revenue streams has become crucial and takes precedence over many other job responsibilities. However, executive directors must equally engage and motivate their organizations’ many stakeholders, including staff members, volunteers, board members, alumni, and of course donors.
There are small nonprofits all across the country with $150,000 annual operating budgets and less than five people on staff. Their executive directors may work – or at least be compensated for – less than full-time and make under $30,000 annually. At the other end of the spectrum, there are organizations in large metropolitan areas with operating budgets in excess of $50 million that pay their executive directors up to $280,000 a year.
As with all career fields, level of education and professional experience dictate a candidate’s compensation. The type and size of the nonprofit are two additional and important variables in pay scale. For instance, a large nonprofit hospital might be able to afford to pay its executive director much more than a small arts organization. The majority of American nonprofit jobs are in health care, specifically hospitals, nursing homes and ambulatory health facilities.
Most nonprofits require their executive directors to have an advanced degree, and because the job descriptions are generally all-encompassing, candidates will probably find it helpful to have a broad liberal arts undergraduate background. A Master of Public Administration degree is particularly well-suited to a nonprofit management career because coursework includes nonprofit and financial management, leadership, and strategic planning.
Small, regional nonprofits may hire MPA graduates right out of school or place them in VP of Programs, Marketing or Education positions that could lead to an executive directorship. However, larger organizations at the top end of the salary spectrum may require 10 or more years of previous nonprofit experience with a proven track record of fundraising and growing organizations.
Ideally, one of the best starting points is to identify your passion. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were almost 1.5 million nonprofits operating in the U.S. in 2006, which is an enormous amount to choose from. Once you have decided which type of nonprofit you are called to work for, you can set about obtaining the skill set specific to your particular cause as well as the universally required strengths in leadership, communication, finances and fundraising.