Erica Cardenas

Passion behind the paycheck

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The nonprofit business sector is diverse and, in some way, touches all of our lives. On a national level, it includes more than 1.6 million organizations, of which about one million are public charities that employ close to 10 million paid workers, over seven percent of the country’s work force.

Nonprofit jobs continue to attract more people and are gaining in popularity. In fact, Arizona nonprofits employ more people than the transportation, communications and utilities industries combined. From new grads to those seeking career changes, many who choose to work in the nonprofit industry do so because they can serve causes they believe in.

Serve a cause and get paid

So, una pregunta to consider if you’re one of the nonprofit career seekers out there: How do you adequately educate and prepare yourself to enter into the field? The NonProfit Times, a national business publication for nonprofit management, shares several insights and tips below to assist you in your job search and research.

First, an obvious but sometimes overlooked question: What are you passionate about? Do you want to save the environment? Help the marginalized in your community? Want to reform politics? Align yourself with an organization and cause that speaks to your heart.

Perhaps the nearest shelter is looking for a chef, or a local hospital is looking for a computer wizard. The options are limitless, and nonprofit jobs exist in just about any field you can think of. In fact, according to the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, more than 20,000 nonprofits are registered in this state alone.

The NonProfit Times also suggests learning more about qualifications needed to work for a particular nonprofit by requesting an informational interview. If anything, it will demonstrate your interest in the organization and could lead to developing solid contacts.
Questions you could ask the interviewee may possibly include

• How did you get started on the nonprofit career path?

• What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?

• What are the educational requirements for this job? Are any types of credentials or licenses are required?

• Is any other prior experience required? How rapidly is the field growing? Can you estimate future job openings?

Volunteering is yet another way to gain exposure to a nonprofit organization. This is key to getting a first-hand look, not to mention it could eventually lead to the inside track for a paid staff position. Perhaps it’s helping with administrative duties in an office, or packing food boxes at your local shelter. Spending voluntary time and energy at your nonprofit of choice could go a long way.

Lisa Doromal, founder and executive director of Valley nonprofit Dress for Success, says volunteers currently make up about 90 percent of her organization. Aimed at promoting the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing them with professional attire and a network of support and career development tools, Doromal says Dress for Success depends on their volunteers.

“We run a very lean nonprofit,” says Doromal, “and honestly, we can’t do what we do without our volunteers … they make up the core of our organization.”

So, what if you’re making a transition from the private sector to the nonprofit one? Is volunteering still relevant? It sure is. You want to translate your private-sector experience in a way that is relevant to potential employers in the nonprofit sector.

Doromal says one of her volunteers is considering making a career switch to the nonprofit field.

“We have a volunteer who helps in our career center who is a technical support expert by trade,” she explains. “She’s been volunteering for about five months, recently had an outside corporate job interview and says she’s now rethinking her career path since volunteering with us. She’s enjoying what she’s doing and isn’t sure she wants to go back to the corporate world.”

Since she and another part-time employee comprise the Dress for Success staff, Doromal adds that one of her goals is to expand the team and hire additional staff once the organization’s resources allow for it.

Here’s another suggestion to align yourself with a nonprofit: Obtain a position on the board of directors. This will not only enable you to learn the ins and outs of the organization, but would also allow you to build a portfolio of nonprofit accomplishments for your résumé.

You’ll want to do some research about the organization, its history and its current operations before agreeing to serve on the board. Keep in mind that once you accept a position as a board member, you have inherently accepted certain fundamental responsibilities, in addition to a commitment of time, accountability, and sometimes a financial commitment to the organization.

Types of NPOS

The Internal Revenue Services breaks nonprofits, or NPOs, into 28 subcategories, but the fundamental differences break down into more basic areas of nonprofit business:

Nonprofits exempt under Section 501(c)(3) are often called charities and can include everything from hospitals and private schools to public television and radio stations, just to name a few. The majority of nonprofits operating in the United States fall into this category. According to the IRS exemption requirements for a 501(c)(3), the organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of the organization’s net earnings may “inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”

Foundations are also 501(c)(3) nonprofits and are established as a way to support causes and programs that benefit society. Foundations are one of the more complex components of the nonprofit sector. Because of federal legislation passed in 1969, private foundations are subject to regulation that is more stringent and reporting requirements than other types of nonprofits. More than 100,000 foundations operate in the U.S.

Social welfare organizations, advocacy organizations or 501(c)(4)s, are another classification of nonprofits that include groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) or service clubs such as Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis and women’s groups. Organizations involved in educating policymakers and the public about political issues, promoting policies or lobbying fall into this nonprofit category type.

Start your own NPO

And what if you’re like Doromal and you have your vision set on creating and starting your own nonprofit? Like any business or career, there are challenges to overcome; however, the rewards are big.

Doromal stands behind this statement.

A native of New Mexico with a degree in clothing textiles and fashion merchandising, she spent several years as a merchandise manager at JC Penney and other retail stores. After five years of being a stay-at-home mom, she wanted to find a way to marry her passions for fashion and helping women in her community. The answer was Dress for Success.

There were a series of steps that Doromal had to take to launch her nonprofit. The first step was to complete an online application with the worldwide organization. Dress for Success has more than 105 affiliates in countries such as the U.S., Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand. Doromal was then invited by the organization to prepare a formal business plan, which took her more than four months to complete.

After submitting her plan to create a Phoenix affiliate, it took seven more months for it to be reviewed and approved before Doromal was given the green light to open and operate a Dress for Success in the Valley.

Although she didn’t have any direct nonprofit experience, Doromal was able to apply some of her previous retail and managerial skills to her nonprofit role.

“My years of being a manager at JCPenney prepared me to supervise several people as well as manage a $1.2 million women’s department,” she says. “Our worldwide organization understands that founders may come from different professional backgrounds, so each year, all affiliates are provided with leadership training in New York for three to five days.”

When considering a nonprofit job, the overall market sector may be abstract and sometimes even misunderstood, but a nonprofit’s role in our society is tangible and easily recognized. Doromal agrees it’s a career with large payoffs.

“If you have passion and determination to give back to your community and make a difference in someone’s life, you’ll be successful on your nonprofit journey,” she says. “You have to surround yourself with positive people, be strategic in your thinking and be adaptable.”

Find your passion – a few local nonprofits to inspire you

Adelante Healthcare (www.adelantehealthcare.com) – currently operates eight healthcare centers throughout Arizona, offering a wide array of services to patients of all economic backgrounds. With a belief in sustainable health care, the concept first took shape 30 years ago in the cotton fields and citrus groves of rural Maricopa County to serve the needs of farm workers in the area.

Arizona Citizens for the Arts (www.azcitizensforthearts.org) – the nonprofit charitable arm of Arizona Action for the Arts that increases discussion and awareness of the importance and impact of the arts in achieving quality of life, educational excellence and economic health for all Arizonans and Arizona Enterprises.

UMOM New Day Centers (www.umom.org) – established in 1964, UMOM helps homeless, at-risk families become self-sufficient and independent through the provision of food and shelter. Outreach programs include housing, domestic violence shelter, a full-service wellness center and a child development center.

Power Paws Assistance Dogs (www.azpowerpaws.org) – provides highly skilled assistance dogs to adults and children with disabilities, and provides education and continuing support for working assistance dog teams. Incorporated in 2001, Power Paws has certified 52 teams and currently has over 30 dogs in training.

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