Outlook Strong for Nonprofit Sector Careers

In today’s economy, nonprofits are great places to earn a living and build a career.

The conventional wisdom may be that nonprofit work is all about self-sacrifice and helping others, but recent statistics tell a broader story of career potential. A 2012 study by the Center for Civil Society at Johns Hopkins University, for instance, found that jobs at nonprofits grew by an average 2.1 percent each year during the 2000-2010 decade, compared to minus-0.6 percent job growth in the for-profit sector.

Even more promising, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a surge in demand for social and community services managers. The number of such positions is expected to grow by 22 percent during the 2012-2022 time frame, well outpacing the overall rate of job growth.

Meanwhile, the for-profit sector is still feeling the effects of the Great Recession. Despite several years of gradual economic recovery, layoffs, hiring freezes and lackluster job growth remain the order of the day throughout the private sector.

A diverse, growing workforce in nonprofits

The 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States employ about 13.5 million people, approximately one-tenth of the workforce. The nonprofit sector is the U.S. economy’s third largest, after retail and manufacturing. In some regions that portion is even larger: In New England, for example, the nonprofit sector accounts for 16 percent of total employment.

Public charities, the largest employers among nonprofits, account for some 5 percent of gross domestic product and pay more than $320 million in wages.

Healthcare and education are the two biggest nonprofit segments, accounting for 57 percent and 15 percent of nonprofit employment, respectively. Both have demonstrated strong growth in jobs, a trend that statisticians expect to continue well into the future.

Several key trends have produced that growth. Last year’s implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act has increased the hiring of healthcare workers, administrative professionals and managers at nonprofit hospitals and other healthcare institutions. At the same time, demographic trends and broad public support for education at all levels have boosted hiring by educational institutions.

Writing recently in the Nonprofit Quarterly, Jaclyn Lambert noted that the nonprofit sector isn’t often associated with economic growth and prosperity. “The truth is that it successfully weathers economic downturns and contributes to the economy while providing much-needed services,” Lambert noted. “Nonprofit organizations not only provide healthcare and education, but allow us to view great works of art, practice the religion of our choice, support the preservation of wildlife and the environment, help victims of natural disasters, and so much more.”

Abundant – and varied – opportunities

Social and community services managers are the organizational backbone for nonprofits, coordinating and supervising social services programs and leading people who deliver services to the public. On average, the BLS says, people in this job category earned just under $60,000 per year in 2012.

Nonprofit organizations need every type of talent that a for-profit company requires to run smoothly. Here are just a few in-demand occupations at nonprofits:

  • Human resources specialists
  • Graphic artists
  • Information technology professionals
  • Marketing managers
  • Accountants
  • Researchers

And there may soon be room at the top. The Improve Group, a St. Paul, Minnesota, nonprofit consulting firm, reports that 69 percent of nonprofits lack a succession plan for top leadership roles. Members of the Baby Boom generation — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are now retiring in greater numbers, swelling the number of job openings for nonprofit execs.

As Lambert put it in her Nonprofit Quarterly article: “A strong background in public administration and a desire to change the world is all that is required to make the leap into one of the most growth-oriented sectors in the U.S. economy.”

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