5 Reasons Why Working for a Nonprofit Is a Great Way to Spend Your 20s

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

1. You can hold onto your idealism for a bit longer upon exiting college.

The world is a harsh place and sometimes corporate atmospheres are too. When I graduated I was riding on a high of idealism that only college and adolescence could bring. I wanted to fight for the people, stick it to the man, empower women, and flat out change the world. I literally walked around with t-shirts that read, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Going right into nonprofit work after college allowed me to believe in people for another decade. So many of my friends who entered the private sector quickly became cynics, changed political parties, and flat out lost faith in humanity. Now in my early 30s, I’m grateful for that extra time I got to spend being a naïve idealist.

2. You will have amazing coworkers who turn into true friends.

Most people say they can count their true friends on one hand. I am fortunate to say this isn’t the case for me. Every single true friend I have met post-college I met working at a nonprofit. How did I find these amazing people? The truth is I didn’t even have to try. I got jobs working at places where I believed in the mission and found others with similar ideals. We clicked immediately and the rest is history.

3. Nonprofit pay is low but the skills you learn will never go to waste.

Almost all nonprofits are short-staffed. This can be challenging but sometimes there is a benefit to wearing all the hats, especially when you’re a recent college graduate. Whether you want to learn social media, project management, grant writing, graphic design, or marketing, a nonprofit has a need for all of these skills. Nonprofits will often throw you right in and let you take a shot at something you’re interested in.

One skill I really honed in on during my nonprofit career was project management. Although I started with zero experience in project management, I was given the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours managing projects. If I wanted to go work for a big company as a project manager I could go get my PMP and make the big bucks. That’s not what I’m currently interested in doing but those skills are never going away.

Another skill set I developed was public relations writing. Nonprofits are always in need of press releases, engaging social media content, newsletters, marketing emails, and numerous other PR writing tasks. If you’re a writer but you want to learn a different way to utilize your writing skills this a great niche to learn.

If you have an interest and an aptitude you will be given the chance to try at a nonprofit. This is not going to happen for you with a large company. A major corporation is not going to hand over all their social media accounts to a 21-year-old with no experience, they just have way too much to lose.

4. Flexibility and great benefits are there if you ask for them.

Nonprofit managers realize that individuals are choosing to work for a nonprofit despite the fact that they are being paid less than what they would make in the private sector. Many nonprofits try to make up for this by being flexible, allowing you to put family first, take vacations, and work from home when you need to.

If you haven’t already figured this out, having the time to travel is crucial to living your best life in your 20s. While working for a nonprofit I desperately wanted to go to Vietnam to visit my brother who teaches English in Southeast Asia. I was not keen on the idea of spending over 24 hours flying to Vietnam to stay there for less than a week. I took a chance and asked my job if I could take a month off to travel. I never dreamed they’d say yes- but they did.

Some other flexible perks I’ve encountered include, getting Fridays off all summer and never having to work a snow day. And when I say never, I mean that I literally never had to go to work on a snow day in my decade of working for nonprofits. Every boss I ever had was more concerned about my safety than asking me to come to work in the snow.

5. You can be creative to strive for real change.

The benefit of working for a small nonprofit is you’re often free from bureaucracy and that means that the sky’s the limit as far as your ideas are concerned. You don’t really have anyone to answer to besides your board and your donors. The good news is your board and your donors care about the mission and the people you’re trying to help. If you have a great idea and it will further the mission, chances are they’re going to let you run with it if you’re put in the time to do it right.

I’ve done everything from helping a 3rd-grade class build a greenhouse out of recycled bottles to coordinating a group of 1,000 volunteers to repair 40 houses in one day. My ideas might seem crazy, but someone gave me the chance and they have all worked out.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not naïve to the fact that nonprofit pay is low and student loan debt is high. While working for nonprofits I often contemplated what I was doing spending a decade of my life making pennies. In hindsight, I don’t regret the time I spent, the people I helped, and the skills I gained. I can’t think of a more perfect way that I could have spent my 20s.

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