Desired qualifications of entry-level nonprofit professionals?
Dedication to a mission. Communication skills. Team work.
The ability to work for free.
Is this really what’s happening in the sector? A recent article discussed frustrations of young nonprofit professionals. Many work for free, sometimes for years, trying to get a foot in the door. In terms of unpaid internships, nonprofits are the worst. According to Intern Bridge- 57 percent of internships at nonprofits are unpaid, compared with 48 percent in government and 34 percent at for-profit businesses.
Jobs in the nonprofit world continue to be attractive to students. However, the reality of unpaid internships, a lack of internal career ladders, and high levels of student debt, prices young people out of the sector.
At the same time staffing and talent management is a problem. Much has been made about the dearth of leadership in nonprofits, and an upcoming 'leadership vacuum' as boomers retire. Furthermore, many nonprofits consistently struggle with attracting and retaining minority candidates.
Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, Vice President of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, recently stated that unpaid internships were a significant barrier for nonwhite students. By creating a sector that requires people to work for free, nonprofits are replicating some of the very issues they are trying to tackle- racial and class based inequality, poverty eradication, and lack of community leadership.
Like most of my peers, I built my resume through a long series of unpaid volunteer jobs. In order to pay the bills and gain experience, I worked 2-3 part time and volunteer jobs in addition to my full time gig as a case manager. The unpaid work provided invaluable learning, as well as tons of burnout. I, however, was privileged to make this happen. I didn’t have children or family members to support. I didn’t live in an expensive city. I had very little college debt.
I know nonprofits have to make due with less. I know that money is an issue. I know that interns work for free. However, what happens when we only hire unpaid interns? The best talent flees to other sectors. And important people are priced out of careers where they can make critical impacts in their own communities.
What Can Nonprofits Do?
If you can’t do any of these things, make sure interns get real experience. I have seen many nonprofit interns spending summers stuffing envelops. Don’t let this happen. Allow them to develop a grant, write articles for newsletters, help run community groups- tangible skills that they can use on their resume.
Nonprofits should be examples of how businesses treat employees- including interns. Get those fiery, diverse, bright interns in your door. Do it well- they are the future of the sector.
Kerri Drumm at Purpose Aligned Consulting is passionate about talent management and recruiting the best and brightest to mission-driven work.
I get it- you probably don’t want to read one more thing about the ice bucket challenge. But you can’t deny that it’s an amazing study of human behavior, not to mention a widely effective fundraising strategy. To date, it’s almost raised 100 million for ASL research.
I don’t know about you, but my Facebook page and happy hour conversations have been filled with little darts and even some real rage from the nonprofit community about what’s wrong with the challenge.
There are lots of conversations of armchair activism (“those people don’t even donate”).
Others talk about what it’s doing to nonprofits- “fundraising cannibalism”- arguing that the challenge is hijacking dollars that would have gone to other causes.
There’s the fundraising skeptics who talk about how ALS will never be able to engage those donors in a long-term, meaningful way.
Of course there’s the very real argument about wasted water. No one can deny that one!
While I don’t really want to see another celebrity dump water on themselves, I am more than a little excited about the ice bucket challenge. Here’s why:
1. Kids and Activism.
The first place I saw the ice bucket challenge was on my 12-year-old cousin’s Facebook page. She covered herself in water, screeched, nominated some friends and donated $10. Why is this important? Usually her Facebook is full of middle school gossip, abbreviations I don’t understand, and photos of celebrities. The ice bucket challenge is engaging thousands of young people in philanthropy. That is exciting to me, and it should be exciting to others who care about the future of the nonprofit sector.
2. Lessons to Learn.
The ice bucket challenge has spawned some very interesting ideas from some super smart people about why and how it has worked. All of you fundraisers out there, it’s time to start looking at this as a great learning opportunity. I loved this article by Beth Kanter. I’m excited to see what lessons about nonprofit engagement will come out of this!
3. Call to Action!
The ice bucket challenge should give all of us in the nonprofit world pause. Fundraising is changing. Golf tournaments and endless grant cycles fulfill some of the need but there are clearly other ways to give.
This is your call for a new, awesome social media strategy! If the ice bucket challenge has shown us anything, it’s that photos of cute kids are not enough. As nonprofit professionals we need to ask ourselves if we have an authentic social media strategy- or are we just sharing photos?
There are tons of terrific books to help you align your social media work. I recently read Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits, and found it to be chockfull of useful, easy to apply tidbits and advice for creating an intentional strategy.
This is your call for creativity! Have you been doing the same event for 20 years with few changes except the type of chicken your caterer serves?
Nonprofits are busy places. Sometimes creativity gets buried in the “To Do” list. Purpose Aligned Consulting can help you to facilitate meaningful information gathering sessions with your staff and stakeholders, and get their thoughts about how to shake things up. We also provide targeted coaching to help you discover creative new ideas.
This is your call for a little silliness. The ice bucket challenge isn’t something new. Remember dunking your high school teacher at the school carnival (aka fundraiser)? The ice bucket challenge reminds us that people love to laugh. Did your last ‘ask’ do that? Through facilitated conversations, workgroups, consulting and coaching Purpose Aligned Consulting can help you come up with plans to get donors giggling- and giving!