The Career Benefits of Nonprofit Work

by Vault Careers | March 02, 2011

  • My Vault

Call it a silver lining of the recession: with so many people struggling to find jobs, nonprofits have had a surfeit of talent to pick from over the last couple of years. Case in point: John Hanawalt, a graphic designer profiled in a New York Times video segment today.

Having graduated valedictorian of his college class, Hanawalt—like many graduates over the past couple of years—struggled to find a position with his first choice of employer: "an agency setting with an advertising agency or PR firm." Instead, he ended up working for Boston-based nonprofit Fenway Health, where he is in charge of the organization's entire graphic design operation.

In the video, both Hanawalt and Chris Viveiros—Fenway's Associate Director of Communications—offer insights into the benefits of doing nonprofit work rather than following a corporate track straight out of college:

"John […] is in charge of all of our graphic design projects," says Viveiros. "You may not find that if you're in the corporate world. You may be stuck doing really basic and boring jobs for the first five years or so of your career."

Hanawalt concurs, telling the Times that one of the major benefits of his position is that "I get to wear a lot of hats."

The one drawback: money. "I think the biggest difference between a nonprofit and private sector work is the lifetime earning potential," says Hanawalt. But he also recognizes that there's no reason he can't do both: build a portfolio of experience that may have been out of reach in a corporate job, and then take the money later.

That possibility is raised in the video too, albeit by the Times journalist—and it offers an interesting potential downside of the recovery, if only for the nonprofit sector: "the question remains as to whether these recent grads will stay in their new careers or be lured back to corporate positions as the economy recovers."

If there is something that will hold grads, it may be that the nonprofit industry offers something only rarely found in the corporate world: a sense of purpose. Or as Hanawalt puts it: "When you work for a nonprofit, you go in every day knowing the mission of the organization and you know exactly how what you're doing contributes to that mission."

How many in other professions can say that?

The New York Times: Doing Good in a Bad Economy (Full Video)

Related on Vault:

Career Paths: Nonprofit Consultant
Career Decision: How to Choose Between Startups and a Big Corporation

--Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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