“How do I get a nonprofit job in Oregon?”
This is one the questions we get all the time at Mac’s List… and I love it! The frequency of the question shows how passionate Oregonians are about doing something special and socially-responsibly with their career.
Here are some of the key points I like to share with job seekers looking to move into the nonprofit sector.
“Nonprofits” describes a large but diverse sector
Oregon has a robust nonprofit sector. According to the State of Oregon Employment Department, there were 8,770 nonprofit organizations operating within the state in 2013 (the latest year for which data is available.) The nonprofit sector accounted for nearly 172,000 jobs–12.2% of Oregon’s total private-sector employment.
So there are plenty of nonprofit jobs in Oregon. But keep in mind that the “nonprofit” label doesn’t describe a specific type of organization or job; rather it broadly categorizes any corporation organized to achieve a purpose other than generating a profit. As such, the nonprofit sector includes organizations from a wide array of industries: healthcare, education, leisure and hospitality, social welfare, professional and business services, and manufacturing, just to name a few.
If you are looking to enter the sector, it may be helpful to look beyond the generic “nonprofit” label and focus on specific types of nonprofits that most interest you.
Do you want to work for a charitable service organization? An association? A foundation? A trade group? A union? An educational institution? A healthcare provider? These are all examples of some of the many types of nonprofits–each of which has their own business model and involve different kinds of work.
Nonprofits require a unique mindset, not a special skill set
There’s no generic skill set for nonprofit workers. While certain jobs and organizations may have special requirements, nonprofit work at-large doesn’t require a trade-specific skill set. In fact, most skills developed in the private sector are directly transferable into a nonprofit setting.
What nonprofit work does require is a special mentality and outlook. Unlike for-profit enterprises, which exist solely to maximize financial return, nonprofits often don’t operate in such linear ways or to such quantifiable ends. Nonprofits take their institutional missions seriously and measure success in ways that may not show up on a balance sheet.
Moreover, nonprofits are very process oriented, with consensus building, deliberation, and transparency often being goals in-and-of-themselves. As a result, the nonprofit world has developed its own language, culture, and professional ethics. More than anything, being in touch with these dynamics is the key to thriving in the nonprofit sector.
Your challenge as someone looking to make the jump into the nonprofit sector is not to learn some secret new skill set; rather it is in translating your existing skills into the nonprofit language and highlighting your value in a way that is recognizable within the nonprofit culture.
You can (sometimes) do well by doing good
There’s a popular belief that nonprofit work doesn’t pay. This is very often true, especially in service-oriented nonprofits. But remember: there are many kinds of nonprofit institutions, and the level of financial compensation (vis-a-vis the for-profit world) can vary greatly.
The State of Oregon Employment Department reports that nonprofit salaries are typically lowest at charities, social services, and manufacturing firms. In other industries, however, nonprofit salaries compare favorably to the those at for-profit organizations. Salaries in nonprofit healthcare pay 10% more than comparable positions in the for-profit sector; pay in the nonprofit financial services sector are more than 20% higher, on average, than their for-profit counterparts.
Other factors that play a role in salary are the size and location of the nonprofit. Bigger nonprofits tend to pay better–especially at the mid- and executive levels–because they generally have resources. Urban nonprofits also typically pay better than rural nonprofits. (Interestingly, the disparity in pay between nonprofit and for-profit jobs in rural areas is small than in urban centers.)
As you start exploring careers in Oregon nonprofits, it’s important to think about your salary needs. If income is an important factor (we all have rents/mortgages to pay) then you may want to focus your search on certain types of nonprofit institutions.
Resources for Nonprofit Job Seekers in Oregon
If you’re dedicated to making the jump into the Oregon nonprofit sector, here are some resources you should check out:
- Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN)
- Nonprofit Association of Oregon
- Community Nonprofit Resources Group
- Oregon Opportunity Network
And, of course, make sure you regularly visit Mac’s List, the premier source for nonprofit and social good jobs in Portland and beyond.