Feeling Valued in the Nonprofit Sector

Feeling Valued in the Nonprofit Sector


By: Ryan Steinbach

I believe that I am meant to work at a nonprofit or social enterprise. I’m passionate about a variety of social and environmental issues, I loved my experiences interning and volunteering for nonprofits in college, and I’m fine with giving up some income to find greater purpose in my work. I have known for a while that a revenue-generating nonprofit is the best fit for me based on my career priorities, thanks to some help from More Than Money Careers. So why am I rethinking getting a job in the nonprofit sector?

It began with my plans to take a couple months off after I graduate to travel. My friend and I have talked about it for years and I’m committed to living out the dream. Everyone I talk to about this plan seems to think it’s a great idea, except for the nonprofits I’m trying to work for.

In the last two months, I’ve been removed from consideration for three positions at nonprofits because of my travel plans. After explaining my travel plans in one phone interview, the recruitment officer even said, “well we’re looking for someone to start at the end of May, so I guess that counts you out.” Beyond the actual recruitment process, I can’t count the number of job postings I’ve failed to consider because the expected start date is June 1st or ASAP.

Now compare that with the one traditional, large for-profit company I’ve applied to. They respond to my emails hours after I send them; they invited me to the office just to meet high level managers and answer my questions; they check in on me to see how I’m doing; and on top of all that they are completely fine with delaying my start date so I can travel after college.

Now, I’ve only been seriously searching for a job for a few months so I have in no way come close to exploring all of the career opportunities I’d be interested in pursuing. But after this month, feeling valued by my potential employers has gone from not even on my list of priorities to close to the top.  So far, the only place I’ve felt like understands my interests and motivations (including my desire to travel), is the for-profit sector.

This isn’t just about my desire to travel. The urgency to fill positions at non-profits is not only making it hard for me to find a job right now, but more importantly it’s making me question how much these nonprofits would value me as an employee. When I end up in these situations where I have to defend my travel plans (both to potential employers and to myself), it gives the impression that these employers are less concerned that I am a valuable fit with the organization and more concerned with getting a butt in a seat.

I understand that nonprofits are far more resource and time constrained than a major company, which is why they can’t implement a traditional hiring cycle or staff an HR department to pamper potential employees. I don’t expect it. What I do expect, however, is to feel valued. Even if I do find a job at a nonprofit after traveling, I can’t see myself enjoying and staying in a position where I don’t feel like the organization I work for understands what I want out of my career and my life overall. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Do I think the answer to this problem lies in nonprofits emulating the hiring techniques of large companies? Not necessarily. But over the years, large companies have made it clear they realize they need to change their value proposition in order to capture and retain top talent. Nonprofits need to do the same.

How can nonprofits do this? I’m not sure, but it is important for the sector—and ultimately, the funders of the sector—to figure out a solution that fits the needs of both employees and employers. I want to see the nonprofit sector thrive, and I want to thrive as a nonprofit sector employee. But until the sector can figure out how to value the nonprofit employee, I’m not sure I can be one.

photo credit: Keith Bacongco