With college graduations quickly approaching, many are unsure how to begin their professional careers. Here are some considerations for those looking at the nonprofit sector.

by Richard McPherson

1. Help change things for the better. Not many jobs let you say you’re in the business of making the world a better place to live in. Working in the nonprofit sector is entirely about improving peoples’ lives, protecting the planet, supporting the arts, caring for seniors or educating young people. You know you’ve picked the right career when people you don’t even know thank you for your effort.

2. Pursue your personal passions. Why limit your deepest personal interests to your “spare time?” Why not make your personal passions the center of your career? If you love the arts, work for a museum or symphony. If you feel a strong connection to wildlife or the oceans, work in conservation. If you love helping people, pick healthcare, education or international relief. Whatever moves you the most, you can be sure there are nonprofits devoted to the same passion; the choices are truly unlimited.

3. Build a wide variety of personal and business skills. Don’t risk being pigeon-holed in a narrow job, far from “management.” Working for a nonprofit organization often gives you diverse responsibilities and more direct access to decision-makers. Work in the nonprofit sector provides a great deal of real world experience – presenting plans to a board, working with the media, evaluating important projects and supervising other bright, motivated people.

4. Meet dedicated people who share your interests. Working in the nonprofit sector brings you in daily contact with people who are there for the same reasons you are – to make a difference. Management isn’t focused on stock prices or corporate takeovers; they are focused on achieving a mission that is measured by people educated, lives saved, art created, habitats protected or diseases cured. From the “corner office” to staff in the field, nonprofit organizations are teams in the best sense of the word – people dedicated to a mission.

5. Experience other cultures and countries. International NGOs (non-governmental organizations) offer the chance to work outside the US and learn from colleagues around the world. Helping other countries develop programs for health, education, the arts and the environment is not only deeply rewarding; it is also a way to experience another culture free from the commercial pressures of business competition. International nonprofit work provides a rare opportunity to appreciate the richness of other cultures while being welcomed as a part of the community.

Richard McPherson is Chief Innovator at McPherson Associates, Inc., the Philadelphia-based agency he founded in 1984. He has raised money for organizations in conservation, higher education, women’s rights, public broadcasting, international relief and the arts, and advised the late Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former President Jimmy Carter. He is on the faculty of the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising at the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies. He is author of Digital Giving: How Technology is Changing Charity (2007, iUniverse) and the forthcoming Mobile Giving: How Your Phone is Changing Charity, due in print, e-book and mobile app in late 2012.

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