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Advice for Young Nonprofit Workers

April 28, 2009

Gen_y_400 As a member of Gen Y working in the nonprofit sector who did not attend this year's Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference in Washington, D.C. last week, I was thrilled to read Caroline Preston's coverage on the Chronicle of Philanthropy's conference blog. Each year, national YNPN members meet to discuss how young nonprofit professionals can move up and work more effectively with other generations; however, this year's event "took on a darker hue because of the economy." As Preston writes:

The economic crisis is shaking up the nonprofit world in ways that are making it more difficult for young workers to find jobs but could also present them with new and unusual opportunities to advance, said speakers and participants....

"Business as usual is out," said Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector. "You may have thought that long before the economic crisis, but now you’ll have a lot of executives who will be interested in the kinds of solutions you have in mind. This is the time for creativity and innovation...."

Preston shares a number of tips and advice from conference speakers and participants for keeping young employees motivated. Here are a few of her takeaways:

  • The economic crisis offers an opportunity for young people to:
    • move up, because a lot of executives are looking for creativity and innovation
    • help their bosses discover new technology and make an impression
    • get "cool new jobs" because seasoned employees are leaving their positions or have been laid off
  • Young workers should look for nonprofit work now, because:
    • when the economy rebounds, the opportunities for growth will be big
    • the nonprofit world needs good, connected leaders to make the world a better place
  • Organizations should:
    • invest more in professional development as they give existing employees new responsibilities
    • restructure their organizations to cultivate young leadership

Along with this good advice, speakers at the conference urged young professionals not to give up on the sector while the recession strains resources across the board. Writes Preston:

People in their 20s and 30s are often considered "sector hoppers," unwilling or uninterested in staying in one job or one type of organization for too long.

Speakers said they were concerned that the economic crisis and the strain it is putting on workers will accelerate that trend. But never before has the nonprofit world needed good leaders as much as it does today, said Independent Sector's Ms. Aviv.

"We need smart, connected people who are interested in making the world a better place," she said. Ms. Aviv said she understands just how challenging the work is, ending her speech with a poem entitled, "I’m Tired, I’m Whipped."

But as young people think about career options, Ms. Aviv said, "Think about the difference you’re making."

What advice can you offer young nonprofit professionals to keep them from leaving the sector? And if you're a young nonprofit employee, what is keeping you motivated and engaged in your work?

-- Regina Mahone


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Posted by Tara  |   April 28, 2009 at 01:38 PM

I work in the nonprofit sector and I was surprised to see how many of my peers have found careers here as well, especially considering none of us set out to do this. At 23 and 24 years old, we don't really know what we want our careers to look like, but we're fortunate that the places where we work are undergoing these changes right now. We are able to have more of a say in decisions, and we are able to take on more responsibility. It's a great time to be a young nonprofit professional.

Posted by Tamar Cloyd  |   April 29, 2009 at 09:08 AM

I attended the YNPN Conference on Friday and it was excellent. I really enjoyed hearing that despite the economy and "business as usual", that there are opportunities popping up for young people to take leadership positions. To be frank, a lot of us are ready and have been ready for a while. I know I certainly am and despite all the obstacles I've experience working in the nonprofit sector, I'm definitely committed to the work and will make my mark before its all said and done...

Posted by Regina Mahone  |   May 05, 2009 at 02:01 PM

Hi Tamar -- Thanks for your comment. What are you doing to make your mark while staying motivated? Do you have any advice on how other young nonprofit workers can follow your lead?

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Quote of the Week

  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."

    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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