Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Will Young People Keep Wanting to Work at Nonprofits?

Ryan Healy writes today about why more and more young people don't want to work for a large, bureaucratic company. He makes very valid points that I agree with, many of which I saw during my brief stint at a very large company.

He suggests that while his peers may not all start their own companies, lots of them will opt to work for smaller businesses. Is the same true for large vs. small nonprofits?

Part of what led me to start CoolPeopleCare was the nearly daily occurrence of people who told me they wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. While many people were simply tired of the very things Healy points out, others wanted to feel like they were making a difference while making a living.

And I knew of several people who left the corporate world and now hold similar jobs at nonprofits. They took a pay cut, work a few more hours, pay more for insurance, and don't have a retirement plan. But, they couldn't be happier.

The nonprofit sector has had the highest job-growth rate since 2000 (as much as 10% by some accounts). People are donating more money and nonprofits are being started and are growing at an alarming rate. Will this sector fall into the same, bureaucratic trap that plagues large companies from attracting and retaining young talent?

It is entirely possible.

As any organization grows, there is a tendency to systematize procedures and policies so as to effectively manage budgets and people. But we all know this can be done badly and actually hinder progress. And this frustrates young people to no end.

When someone wants to get his or her job done, and doesn't have the right tools, or it takes too long to get the right approval, or when the age old excuse is thrown out of, "That's not how we've done it before" and a dream or good idea is shot down before it can be explained - that's the kind of crap no one can deal with. And it doesn't matter if your business is saving baby whales or clubbing them - no one will stand for that kind of inefficient crap.

(I sincerely hope you don't make money by clubbing baby whales. If you do, I hope you go out of business.)

So, nonprofits will rarely win the pay battle for young talent. But they can win the battle of independence and efficiency. If you create a working environment that allows young talent the change to grow and develop, if you provide this talent with the best tools for them to do the best work, then you'll be able to keep them, at least for a little while.

Until they go start their own thing.

Comments (2)

The problem with working for non-profits as a young person is that they tend to grossly under-compensate young people.

This may not be true in Nashville, but I worked for several non profit organizations in DC, where non-profit is pop-culture, and it was a systemic problem. Many of the non-profits that employ the most young people were the worst about compensation.

I am not just talking about non-profits paying less than for-profits. I am talking about entry-level non-profit jobs paying disproportionately less than higher-level jobs in the organization.

Still, I have had some very rewarding jobs, even though the pay wasn't very good.

Thanks for the insight, Jackson.

I think your points are some of the main reasons young people STOP working for nonprofits. Unfortunately, zeal to save the world only goes so far. Bills still need to get paid.

Some nonprofits are pioneering employee bonus systems, which is an interesting idea to keep an eye on.