I’m two weeks away from completing my degree in Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. Although I’m not new to the workforce, my options are expanding and instead of searching for jobs, I’m now seeking a career. In this quest, I’m looking to marry the two important factors in my perfect career. The first is doing work I find meaningful and that uses the knowledge and skills I’ve gained in my education. The second, making enough to pay off my mountain of student loans (which feels more like Everest) in a reasonable amount of time, while having a few dollars left over. I enter the debate of working in the nonprofit sector or profit sector. There are so many great opportunities in the nonprofit sector; jobs that offer meaningful work. I could really make a difference in people’s lives. I’d get a chance to use my education, be creative and strategize to solve real life problems. Not to mention benefit from the great networking that takes place.
With all the great things the sector has to offer I’m still left questioning whether it’s the right path for me. What’s holding me back is the aforementioned mountain. I wonder if working in this sector will allow me to pay off my loans and still afford me the ability to buy a house and start a family. This led me on a mission to find the truth about compensation in the nonprofit sector. Let me tell you, it was very difficult to find information about comparable wages in the nonprofit sector. For example, job postings, especially those for entry-level positions, were very vague when it came to wage information. Most didn’t give an expected salary range, while others said things like; “wages are negotiable” or asked the applicant to “state an expected wage”. However, once I dug deep enough, from what I could find the news is not all bad. The nonprofit sector like all other sectors offers career advancement, benefit packages (health/dental, vacation, professional development, etc) and entry-level wages/salaries that are, for the most part, acceptable. However there are still challenges because not all nonprofit organizations are large with organizational charts that offer room to grow. Also, with the increasing rates in which people switch jobs now (every 2-5 years by some estimates), most higher paying positions required years of seniority that will be less and less common.
These challenges need to be understood by organizations, donors, and funders and they all need to modernize approaches to hiring up and coming talent. Also, if perception doesn’t equal reality, then the story needs to be told better. Make information readily available and don’t be afraid to let people know what you are going to pay them. University students are often accused of being idealistic but we also have realistic expectations around salary and compensation. As a soon-to-be university graduate, what I can expect to earn in an entry level position is important to me. It factors into what jobs I apply for and the sectors I look to for employment. Clear, accurate, and easily accessible information is a good way to catch my attention and help me make an informed decision. As I mentioned, the nonprofit sector has a lot of meaningful work to offer. If nonprofits want to bring in bright and shiny new graduates they need to show them that wages are comparable to other industries, only then will they attract the next generation of leaders.
Gloria Lawrence, U of A Practicum Student
Gloria is a Practicum student with the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. She has demonstrated a great understanding of the nonprofit/voluntary sector in her time here at Volunteer Alberta.