Engaging Young Professionals in the Nonprofit Sector
by Mary Polychronis, CCVO Program Coordinator
Last week, CCVO held a lunch for summer students working in The Kahanoff Centre to learn about their experiences in the nonprofit sector, and to encourage them to connect with one another.
Thirteen students from nine organizations in the building joined us for an insightful discussion. The students shared stories of what brought them to their summer jobs in the sector, and what they’re learning from their experiences. Networks remain important, as some students shared, that because of their own misconception of being underqualified for the position, they would not have applied, if not encouraged by a contact.
All of the students agreed that they have been welcomed into their roles, and have enjoyed the informal, collegial, and collaborative atmosphere of their workplace. They characterized their colleagues as friendly, welcoming, and as individuals who love coming into work every day, and regardless of whether the position was directly relevant to their degree or not, they were all enthusiastic about their summer jobs, and the organization of which they were a part.
Building relationships, being a part of the culture and information network, and working toward a cause in which they can see the effects of their work, were some of the joys they associated with working in the nonprofit world. They also appreciate the openness and flexibility of their teams, and the opportunity to hop on different projects, giving them more insight into their likes and interests. The students are not only finding their work fulfilling and a chance for them to give back to the community but recognize that it may open doors for future opportunities.
Reflecting on what surprised them the most about their experience so far, many mentioned that they felt like more than “just” summer students, with the amount of freedom and responsibility they have at work and how much they are trusted to do their jobs. They were also impressed to see how effective small teams are when handling great responsibility, how innovative the organizations are, and the amount of money it takes to run an organization. The students hadn’t expected the depth of rich and diverse experience they would gain through their roles, which was especially realized in conversations with friends working in different sectors this summer. While some of these friends were working for large, attractive corporate names, their roles were limited to mundane tasks and they were not given the same flexibility and freedom which the summer students described in their nonprofit roles.
How can this discussion help the nonprofit sector attract more young people? For students, working during the summer to support their studies is important, but they still felt that a career in the nonprofit sector is largely associated with unpaid or volunteer positions. However, some students stated that this perception is slowly changing. This suggests that nonprofits can play a larger role in encouraging young professionals by the way we promote the sector and highlight its fulfilling work, both online and within the community.
Do you have a great story about your experience as a student working in the nonprofit sector, either now or in the past? Tweet us @nonprofitvoice to share your story!