Students Contemplate Money or Passion
September 26, 2004 11:25 PM
Every year students at SF State and around the country earn their degree and enter a job market that often asks them to choose between their passion and their bank account. Assuming that it’s impossible to have a career that is both personally fulfilling and financial secure, students shy away from opportunities with the more than 3,200 nonprofit organizations in California alone.
“There’s very little money in those agencies to go around,” said Bill Mooney, who graduated last spring with a B.A. in sociology from SF State. “ My experience is that they (nonprofits) are disorganized, and what they hope to achieve is often so daunting.”
While at State, Mooney interned with Green Action, an environmental nonprofit, and also volunteered with another organization that focused on tutoring refugees. Mooney turned down a full-time position with the later of the two, Refugee Transitions, due in part to funding and salary considerations. Although concerns about money, organization and job security in the nonprofit sector are valid, they are not universal and are often overshadowed by the “intellectual currency” these organizations provide.
Melissa Lunkin is the executive director of CORA (Community Overcoming Relations Abuse), a San Mateo based nonprofit focused on addressing domestic violence issues. Each year the center takes 4,700 hotline calls, provides legal assistance to 1,000 clients and assist nearly 10,000 San Mateo teens and adults through community based outreach programs. Although Lunkin had no previous experience in the field of domestic violence, she was able to use her experience as an Outward Bound day camp instructor and her MBA in finance to land her current position.
“I was looking for something that mattered more than the executives I was training,” said Lunkin.
Lunkin manages 35 full time staff members, 130 active volunteers and plays liaison to 15 board members; experts appointed by the nonprofit to oversee its finances, goals and direction. Lunkin said that although her work is both challenging and rewarding, there were in upwards of 100 such positions open when she was interviewing.
“Coming from the corporate culture, this world can make you crazy,” said Lunkin. “ You don’t get paid a lot of money and it’s intense work.”
The two biggest concerns related to pursuing a career in nonprofits tend to be money and burnout.
SF State Recreation and Leisure professor Regina Neu takes a more optimistic perspective when explaining these challenges.
“That’s part of the fun of working for many small nonprofit agencies,” said Neu. “You get to do everything.”
Neu has a background in elementary education and worked for years with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. She listed securing grant money and a slow moving bureaucracy as two additional challenges associated with nonprofits.
“It’s very difficult to get a consensus when you work for a group of people,” said Neu. “You don’t have one boss, you have 12.”
Neu is referring to the board members and varying levels of full-time staff that all tend to have a say in how most nonprofits are run. Neu also said that it is a challenge to keep a nonprofits volunteer staff motivated, due either to the tedious or overly stressful nature of their work.
“At Big Brothers Big Sisters, if I kept them (volunteers) for 18 months, I’d consider it a success,” said Neu.
Big Brothers Big Sisters focuses on pairing at risk youths with adult mentors. It is one of almost 2,000 Bay Area nonprofits that offer SF State graduates an opportunity to make an impact on their local or national communities while still earning a living.
Stacy Roberts previously worked in SF State’s college of education and is now the executive director of the Math and Science Network. The nonprofit focuses on exposing girls to careers in math and science through conferences were they meet professional woman ranging from biologists to physicists to astronauts.
“They teach them how to make slime, Lego’s, all that good stuff,” said Roberts.
Even with two masters degrees and 21 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, Roberts still finds the work both challenging and stressful. She listed a background in social work and the ability to write grant proposals as desirable skills when pursuing a career in nonprofits. She also said that patience and a sense of humor help allot.
“Every day that I keep our doors open is a miracle,” said Roberts. “And to work with a group of girls in a hands on experiment, and know that you made it happen is very rewarding and empowering.”
In the Bay Area alone, SF State students can find full-time work or volunteer opportunities in almost every conceivable subject of interest. The Volunteer Center, a nonprofit support and job listing organization covering San Francisco and San Mateo, currently has in upwards of 150 listings in the nonprofit sector that can be found at www.thevolunteercenter.net.
Hospice and Shanti both provide companionship and medical assistance to the terminally ill and their families. Americorps trains 50,000 Americans every year, most college graduates, in areas ranging from education to public safety, and offers money for graduate school. Animal shelters around the Bay Area work with organizations such as P.A.W.S. to find homes for stray animals at risk for being put to sleep.
SF State senior Costa Vorrises has been working for Newton Learning Center, a nonprofit agency based in Foster City specializing in after school tutoring, for the past five years. Vorrises said he enjoys the lively atmosphere and rewarding nature of his work, but fears he will not be able to maintain the high level of commitment that working with special needs children requires.
“Sometimes you just don’t want to do it,” said Vorrises. “Patience is a big thing when you get the same kid asking the same question 20 times in one minute.”
Vorrises said he sticks with it because of the impact he can make with the children he tutors.
“I enjoy the way I can interact with the parents and how they can see their kids communication and people skills improving,” said Vorrises.
Still, many SF State students harbor lingering concerns about their ability to survive and stay motivated in what is often an emotionally and fiscally draining field.
“Nonprofits interest me because they are human/care based rather than being money driven,” said Damoven Bozorgzadardbah, a CAD and French major. “But I’m also concerned about not being able to make a living and losing my passion.”
Professor Neu summarized what is most important to many students and corporate transplants that have chosen to work in the nonprofit sector.
“Every night when I went home, I could absolutely say I helped kids,” said Neu. “To most, it’s all about passion.”
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