Working Strategies: A guide to pursuing nonprofit ambitions

Of all the conversations I’ve had with people about choosing a career path, those who seem the most sheepish are the ones drawn to nonprofits. There’s something about the frank admission that you want to help others or that salary isn’t your primary motivator that makes people feel like they aren’t measuring up when they’re at the career counselor’s office.

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

But change is in the air. There’s some combination of our current domestic and global problems, paired with the grass-roots activation of citizens in our recent presidential campaign, that is creating a renewed sense of interest in nonprofit careers. I believe the recession is a driver as well. There’s nothing like being kicked out of a job you didn’t like anyway to help focus one’s attention on more rewarding work.

Shelly Cryer, author of “The Nonprofit Career Guide: How to Land a Job That Makes a Difference” (Fieldstone Alliance, 2008, $18.95), has this to say:

“If you’re considering a nonprofit-sector career, it’s likely that you see your life of meaning as connected to public service. You’re committed to finding work that ‘makes a difference,’ that contributes to some aspect of the health and welfare of our planet. You’re fortunate if this is your calling.”

So how do you go about entering this realm of work? I’d say one of your first steps is to buy Cryer’s book. I seldom make such an all-out endorsement, but I think she has done an exceptional job of portraying both the breadth and the depth of work that is possible in this arena.

She doesn’t shy away from the salary issue, but hits it head-on by providing research and analysis. I have always understood that nonprofit salaries were not far different from other fields, once you remove the highest earners from the for-profit world. Cryer’s information provides a guide to likely salaries based on the nonprofit’s annual budget.

Another feature of this book that I enjoyed were the 19 profiles of people working in a variety of nonprofits. These she augments with a dozen or more interviews with industry experts. She also includes 14 actual job descriptions posted by organizations to help job seekers see the qualifications.

There isn’t anything in this book that wouldn’t apply to an older audience, even if she does skew some advice to younger workers.

Other options? Stay tuned to this space. November is Career Development Month, and I’ll be devoting some columns to the process of career transition.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@prototype or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

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