Thriving on Purpose: How Young Professionals Build Financial Stability in the Nonprofit World

*Originally published on July 27, 2023, by Rylan Kepner, Commentary (Acknowledgment to the original publisher, La Piana Consulting)*

The passion and engagement of Gen Z and Millennials in social and civic causes are driving more young professionals towards careers in nonprofits and mission-driven organizations. At a session titled “Mission-Focused Generations: How Are They Changing the Nonprofit Landscape?” during AAUW’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL 2023), the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of DC (YNPNdc) shared insights on pursuing careers in the nonprofit space. A common concern among students was how young professionals manage financial stability on nonprofit salaries.

The reality is that, despite progress in closing pay equity gaps, nonprofit salaries still lag behind the for-profit sector. Strategies employed by young nonprofit professionals to address this issue include taking on additional paid work within or outside the sector to supplement their income. Emphasizing the importance of fair compensation for professional development opportunities, Madison Gharghoury, YNPNdc’s Director of Communications, described her experience with a part-time fellowship.

To proactively manage financial stability, some young professionals, like Ashley Gordon, YNPNdc’s Director of People and Culture, opt for intentional financial planning in the early years after college. Engaging in programs like AmeriCorps, which offer educational benefits, allows them to gain valuable experience while paying off student loans and saving for the future.

Beyond salaries, young professionals are considering other factors when choosing between the nonprofit and private sectors, such as health insurance coverage, generous paid time off policies, and opportunities for professional growth and career acceleration. Claire Pandaleon, YNPNdc’s Director of Membership, highlighted the importance of prioritizing employee well-being and work-life balance.

While nonprofit salaries may not match those in the private sector, the nonprofit sector’s strength lies in its unique attributes, such as offering good benefits, generous paid time off, and opportunities to align personal values with meaningful work. These aspects resonate with the desire for a sense of purpose that draws many to the nonprofit sector.

In conclusion, while financial challenges persist, young professionals find ways to thrive in the nonprofit world through strategic planning, seeking compensated opportunities, and prioritizing a holistic work environment. By continuing to emphasize the human experience and building on the sector’s differentiating strengths, nonprofits can attract and retain the next generation of talented and mission-driven professionals.

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Madison Gharghoury

Madison Gharghoury

Director of Communications