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Nonprofit Careers May Be Worth the Sacrifice

Nonprofit Careers May Be Worth the Sacrifice

By Geoffrey Fox, Monster Contributing Writer

Nonprofit Careers May Be Worth the Sacrifice By Geoffrey Fox, Monster Contributing Writer  Why are some people attracted to careers in nonprofits, considering the low pay and long hours?

Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, president of the Hispanic Federation, a $4.7 million nonprofit membership organization of 81 Hispanic/Latino health and human services agencies in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, offers one answer: “Nonprofit work is not just a career opportunity -– it’s commitment and passion,” she says.

More Than a Job

Many Hispanics/Latinos are drawn to work in nonprofit organizations, because they care deeply about the issues these groups confront, such as discrimination, lack of educational opportunities, poor health services and domestic violence. Cortés-Vázquez says she was born into this work in East Harlem, New York City. Other Hispanics/Latinos, however, come into nonprofit work after finding something lacking in their for-profit experience.

For Miriam Gerace, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of New York City, the need for personal fulfillment was a key part of her decision to return to nonprofit work.

After completing college in the US, Gerace, a Bolivian American who was born in Peru, found a job in a nonprofit international development project in her native country. But then she started working as a journalist in the Lima offices of Dow Jones. She enjoyed the writing and the opportunity to use her bilingual skills, but “there was something missing,” she says. “There was no sense of mission, of promoting social change.”

Now back in the US, Gerace writes press releases and literature on reproductive health. She now has that sense of working with a mission — helping young Latinas and other women take better care of themselves — while still using her journalistic skills. And she finds being bilingual is a great asset, because it helps her reach out to a key segment of the population her organization serves and it’s useful for communicating with the Spanish-language media.

Try a Nonprofit Career, You Might Like It

If you’re intrigued by the thought of pursuing a career in nonprofits, Gerace and Cortés-Vázquez both emphasize the value of internships, which Gerace believes Hispanics/Latinos underuse. “I think Latinos are a little behind the curve in job preparation,” says Gerace. “I haven’t seen a single Latino who has approached us for an internship, and we have a really active volunteer program.”

An organization like Gerace’s is “the perfect place to get a broad range of skills,” she says, because nonprofits are almost always “overstretched and understaffed.”

That means interns have to work “across job titles and across projects,” as Cortés-Vázquez puts it, exposing them to a variety of duties and responsibilities.

Nonprofits Aren’t for Everybody

Despite the many positives, nonprofit work is not for everybody. Cortés-Vázquez says she tries to hire only the brightest people and looks for the best academic performers. To succeed in this field, a person must be “self-directed, prepared to take initiative and not see it as a routine 9-to-5,” she says. Nonprofit workers may have to give up the occasional weekend or evening to get the job done.

Cortés-Vázquez also warns that there must be a good fit between the individual’s personality and the organization’s culture. Some nonprofits, like some businesses, are more structured and bureaucratic than others. For example, they may have more meetings, require more paperwork or define job titles more narrowly, where other organizations are more fluid. Too often, Cortés-Vázquez has seen good people burn out, not because of the work itself, but because they needed more structure or else felt hindered by too much of it.

Worth the Sacrifices?

Many nonprofit professionals have tremendous job satisfaction, especially when they see their work’s results in the lives of the people they serve.

But commitment and passion are definite requirements. Nonprofit salaries tend to be lower than in the for-profit sector, and “it’s a pretty flat pyramid — not a lot of advancement,” says Cortés-Vázquez. For example, in the New York metropolitan area, a program director in a nonprofit makes about two-thirds the salary of a director in an accounting firm, according to the Salary Wizard.

“What you give out is greater than what you personally receive as compensation,” says Cortés-Vázquez. But for the person who wants to change the world for the better, there is no substitute.

This article originally appeared on Monster Advice