Nonprofit Careers: Making a Living While Making a Difference

By Kelly Cleary

Sometimes students talk to career counselors as if they were making a confession.  We often hear “I don’t want to be a doctor (or lawyer)” in almost a whisper so their parents in Long Island or LA can’t hear them. But sometimes, instead of a whisper, it’s a confident voice accompanied by averted eyes, as if to say, “I know this is crazy but…,” coming from  a student who has made up his or her mind, but isn’t sure how friends and family will take the decision. She wants to join the Peace Corps, he wants to write a screenplay, she wants to go to culinary school, or he wants to do conservation work in Alaska.  In any case, I love meeting with these types of students because instead of committing to a future career they feel lukewarm about, almost guaranteeing themselves a future case of the Sunday evening blues, they’ve identified something they really care about and enjoy. The next step is simply (or not so simply) helping them find a way to make a living while pursuing their passion. Pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector can be one great way to pursue your passion while making a living.

Yes, you can support yourself and make a living while working for a nonprofit. It’s true salaries in nonprofits tend to be quite a bit lower than salaries in the for-profit and even government sectors, but once you’ve reassessed your budgetary needs (Netflix is probably cheaper than cable; cooking is healthier and cheaper than ordering out; having a roommate means more money in your pocket, etc.), you can quickly realize you can make ends meet. And often, once you’ve proved yourself as a competent professional in a nonprofit, especially if you work for an organization that offers tuition assistance for graduate school, your salary will increase. All the while you’ll be supporting a cause you really care about, working with people who care about the same issues, and usually having a pretty great work-life balance.

For more information about pursuing a nonprofit job, attend tomorrow’s workshop:

NONPROFIT CAREERS 101 workshop (Wednesday, November 17, 5:00-6:00pm, Civic House Living Room)

This event is designed to help you better understand the non-profit sector and assist you in navigating the job search in the public interest. The session will demystify some of the myths about careers in the public interest as well as help you better determine which job opportunities to pursue, and how best to go about attaining them. The session will also introduce you to resources both on campus and the web. (CO-SPONSORED BY CAREER SERVICES & CIVIC HOUSE)

For additional information about nonprofit careers read the The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers or  The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers. Also, keep an eye out for several nonprofit-related career fairs co-sponsored by Career Services in Spring 2011 including the Not-For-Profit Philadelphia Fair, the Not-For-Profit & Public Service Fair at Columbia, and the Philadelphia Nonprofit Fair co-sponsored by

A Day in the Life: Urban Public School Reformer

Read Janel Forde’s archived tweet feeds here: Day 1 and Day 2

In the next two weeks, we welcome alumna Janel Forde who will post about another career path in education – urban public school administration. Follow @PennCareerDay on Twitter on November 8th, and then again the week of November 15th. Don’t miss out on what Janel’s days are like!

Janel Forde, W '01

Janel works for Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in America with over 400,000 students, almost 700 schools and a $6bn operating budget. For the past year, Janel has worked in the CEO’s Office as the Director of Stimulus Programs. In that role she served as the district’s single point of contact for all stimulus related initiatives and helped to develop the state’s Race to the Top application ($400M) as well as the district’s Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant which was the district’s largest competitive grant award to date, $34M. She has also led several strategic projects for the office. Prior to joining the district, Janel was a consultant in the Boston Consulting Group’s Chicago office. She specialized in the financial services sector and functionally in process management and strategy development.

Originally, from the east coast, Janel has worked in marketing and business development at American Express and in investment banking at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, all in New York. Janel earned her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and her undergraduate degree from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

A Day in the Life: International Health Recruiter

Read Kate Theirs’s archived tweet feed here: Day 1 and Day 2

There are many opportunities for those of you interested in international and/or health-related careers.  If you find the right organization, you can apply a broad range of your talents and have a career that serves your passion for international relations and/or healthcare.  Our next alumni on @PennCareerDay will highlight one of these career paths on Tuesday, October 19th and Tuesday, October 26th.   These two days on @PennCareerDay are alongside a line-up of programs and events geared toward international opportunities.  For more information on these events, click here if you’re an undergraduate or here if you are a graduate student.  Read more below on Kate Thiers who will be posting for @PennCareerDay during these weeks, and don’t forget to follow to see what her day is like!

Kate Thiers (W ’00) is the Operations Manager for Africa Health Placements (, a Johannesburg-based non-profit company that places foreign and local health workers in rural public hospitals in southern Africa. Since inception in 2005, AHP has placed over 1,750 doctors in southern Africa, over 900 of whom are foreign nationals. Kate’s team manages all finance, IT, HR, marketing, PR, website and orientation activities for all AHP offices, which include Johannesburg, Durban, Swaziland, Lesotho, the UK and the US.
Prior to moving to South Africa in November 2009, Kate was a Project Manager with Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics in London. There, she was a project administrator for a European-wide corporate merger project for one year and subsequently managed a new partnership initiative with National Health Service (NHS) hospitals for a second year. In the US, Kate worked as a project manager for a Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company and managed large-scale application and infrastructure initiatives. She also worked as a business consultant for two years with Andersen Business Consulting.

Kate has an MBA from the Said Business School at Oxford University in the UK and a Bachelor of Science in Economics (BSE) from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

FYI: TFA (Teach for America)

by Erica Marks

“One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

Before joining the corps, the mission statement (above) was all I knew of Teach for America. Did I want to help? Sure. Did it seem easy? More or less. In the end, looking back on two strenuous, but fulfilling years, I feel like I did the mission some justice.

As an undergraduate business major at Pitt, I truthfully had no idea what I was going to do and where I was going to end up. I was applying for jobs that appealed to my major, but that didn’t appeal to me.  It was during this time of soul-searching, that I came across an opportunity that I knew nothing about, but seemed like it may give my career more purpose.  After a lengthy, three-part application process, I made the cut.

My assignment: Up and move to Charlotte (you rank your cities, I was thrilled about Charlotte, not the move) and take on an entire class of 1st graders with zero experience.

My preparation: Make a pit stop in Atlanta for a 5 week, intensive, hands on boot camp, teaching summer school.  The end goal of which was to get my group of students into the glory land of 6th grade (very happy to report that they made it).

My experience: From day one in the classroom, I knew I had underestimated my role.  To start, 20 six-years olds depended on ME to make them ready-minded 2nd graders, while simultaneously teaching them everything about everything.  Did I accomplish this? According to the data, yes. Was it simple? By no means. Did I fall in love with all 20 of these little rascals? 18 (not all of them were angels). It is now crystal clear to me why teachers have a summer vacation.

My motivation: The moments when the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place; when Ke’Shaun stopped writing his letters backwards (even the word pizza was incomprehensible), when Raeven told me she wanted to be an author (that girl loved telling tales), when Maia became a math whiz and champion of Addition Wars (the kids preferred this game to recess, she was the fastest adder in the class!) and when Sade’s mom told me she wanted to be a teacher just like me.

My aftermath: In hindsight, all jokes aside, Teach for America has been my single-most meaningful experience to date. Do I recommend it? Yes, to those who want to be the change that shapes the minds of our youth and the force that strengthens our education system.

A Day in the Life: Educational Non-Profits

Jason Chan
Jason Chan

Read Jason Chan’s archived tweet feed here:

If you’re interested in education, there are many alternatives to teaching or working in a school, whether it is an elementary school or university.  On Tuesday, September 28th Jason Chan (SAS ’02) will highlight one of these alternatives when he tweets for @PennCareerDay about his career with an educational non-profit.

Jason Chan is the Director of Scholar & Alumni Programs at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF), where he serves as a student advisor and oversees a portfolio of academic support, leadership development, and community-building programs designed for recipients of the APIASF and Gates Millennium Scholars (GMS) scholarship awards.

Prior to APIASF, Jason was a graduate coordinator in both the student conduct and multicultural affairs offices at the University of Maryland-College Park. In addition to advising student organizations and campus leaders, he also facilitated intergroup dialogues and co-taught a course on leadership and race. Jason has also worked at City Year, a national non-profit community service organization, as an AmeriCorps volunteer and a full-time staff member. There, he taught diversity curricula to Boston public school students, managed neighborhood service-learning programs, led teams of volunteers in service, and supported City Year’s recruitment and admissions functions.


Jason has a M. Ed. in College Student Personnel from the University of Maryland-College Park, and a B.A. in Psychology and Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania.

Connect with Jason: