Poster Paper: Toward a Sustainable Sector: The Individual and Organizational Needs of Young Nonprofit Professionals

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jodi Benenson, University of Nebraska, Omaha

As young nonprofit professionals increasingly assume leadership positions within nonprofit organizations, the nonprofit sector must adapt to the professional needs of this population. However, the research on young nonprofit professionals is scant. While previous research has documented the compensation needs (Berkshire, 2012; Cornelius et al., 2008; McGinnis, 2011), perceptions of leadership development strategies (Dobin & Tchume, 2011), and the attraction and retention of talent (McGinnis Johnson & Ng, 2015), the field lacks rigorous research around the pressing issues affecting young nonprofit professionals today. Moreover, there is a dearth of research around how sustainable nonprofit careers are for young nonprofit professionals as it pertains to their own basic financial emotional, and health needs, which can be directly tied to organizational policies.

For this reason, the research questions guiding this study include: Are young nonprofit professionals finding that their careers in the nonprofit sector are sustainable? Specifically, in what ways do young nonprofit professionals balance their social change career goals with their own basic financial, emotional, and health needs? How do organizational policies influence these outcomes? This paper uses quantitative and qualitative data from the 2018 Young Nonprofit Professionals Survey to answer these questions (N=1,200). The study asks questions about individuals’ career goals, organizational supports, and organizational or career challenges. While “young” can be defined broadly, the study defines “young” as individuals who are under 40 years old.

Preliminary findings from this study suggest that many nonprofit organizations provide health and financial benefits to employees, but these benefits are not widely adopted across the sector. For instance, while 92% of respondents report having paid time off and 88% of respondents report having health insurance, only 42% report having paid leave and an even smaller percentage (7%) report childcare benefits. Moreover, 95% of respondents feel stretched to make ends meet financially, with 11% of respondents feeling this way daily. Causes of stress include uncertainty about job expectations and duties, poor or challenging relationships in the workplace, and being unable to cope with the amount of work.

The findings from this study has important implications for how nonprofit organizations can make a nonprofit career more sustainable for a new generation of nonprofit leaders. These findings also have implications for the ways organizational policies influence career sustainability in the nonprofit sector. While the aging of the baby boomers and turnover at the executive level will likely present considerable challenges to many nonprofit organizations, this trend also provides organizations with a unique opportunity to redefine the way they support young nonprofit professionals. The results from this study will provide concrete recommendations about how nonprofit organizations can strategically adapt and respond to the needs of young leaders to maintain a healthy career in the nonprofit sector.