2009 Comebacks: Non-profits

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Volunteers for Meetup.com and the Huffington Post passed out name tags on the National Mall before the inauguration for people to fill out and wear in the spirit of getting to know their fellow Americans. The back of the name tags had a list of recommendations on how to use the online social organizing and networking site Meetup and motivation to get started: "Be like Barack: Be a Community Organizer!"

With so many laid-off, people now have time to indulge their idealism. Expect to see non-profit hiring and launching rise in 2009. With the economy this bad, Wall Street crippled by its own greed, and jobs hard to come by, people will look for work with meaning, even if it means they have to start their own non-profit.


Where's the money to do such things? Investors are keeping it out of the markets, but it still needs to go somewhere. Right now social responsibility is a hot place to invest. Entrepreneurs' are seeking new innovations to help non-profits succeed. There's much for these organizations to learn from the Obama campaign's well-oiled machine, which, once these lessons are integrated, will help propel the growth of this sector. President Obama himself is the biggest spokesperson for non-profits; his call to service is no doubt inspiring workers to rethink their careers and investors to consider socially responsible investments.

Baby boomer and Huffington Post retirement expert Mark Miller wrote last month, "The business world is crumbling all around us, but non-profits have been growing faster than either the business or government sector--and they're facing a shortage of talent. Best of all, the non-profit sector is gradually waking up to the potential of encore career switchers--people who want to move into new lines of work with meaning in the second half of life."

Former bankers and other private sector execs are increasingly bringing their expertise to the rough and tumble world of non-profits. This doesn't mean that skills are transferable. Having worked in non-profits myself, I can testify that the long hours are the same as a Wall Street numbers-cruncher but you're forced to do more with less, can't always count on getting reimbursed for expenses, and the pay can be dangerously close to that of an intern.

At the same time, working for a non-profit taught me how to be aggressive in asking for money and donations of goods and services. I even started haggling over prices in major retail stores and it worked! So though the pay doesn't compare to the private sector, non-profits do pay you back in character building and bartering skills.

For those looking to break into the non-profit world, check out job posts on Idealist.org, join a non-profit networking group in your neighborhood through Meetup.com, and peruse The Nonprofit Quarterly.

If you're going to have a job, it might as well be one that helps fix the problems before us.

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