Why I Chose a Nonprofit Career: A Letter to Newcomers by Cheryl Wisniewski

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

If you attended YNPN Chicago’s Annual Celebration on April 19th, you heard Dr. Hal Lewis, President of Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies, allude to the fact that there are still those who do not view a nonprofit career as a “real job.” And unfortunately, I have found that he’s absolutely right. More than likely, you are not earning a lavish salary, you are not increasing dividends, and you are probably also not working a typical “9 to 5” job. My response? Thank heaven for that!

As nonprofit professionals we are choosing a different path – a path that is not defined by dollars and cents, but by compassion and self-sacrifice. We have the opportunity to feed our passion and live by our convictions. We live each day guided by the “butterfly effect” – the idea that a butterfly’s wings can create a hurricane half a world away – that our actions, however incremental, add up to real and lasting change for individuals and communities.

Know that choosing to make a difference is a legitimate choice. If you have chosen the nonprofit path, you have probably found that you didn’t really choose it at all, but rather, it chose you. After graduating from Illinois State University, I have looked back with great fondness, not for my studies, but for the campus/community organizations I was a part of – and there were many! Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that I could do that for a living and it was a revelation.  I have been lucky to receive continual education and exposure to this work thanks to DePaul’s School of Public Service and organizations like YNPN Chicago.  And I have focused on them, instead of others who may have a rigid and close-minded view of what a “career” should be.

Instead, we should recognize and appreciate the idealistic vision many of us have of our sector (after all we are saving the world and all). It is important to remember this, given the stretched budgets and internal politics we face. Young nonprofit professionals today are not only helping to shape our organizations, but also various political landscapes. Don’t stop now; keep moving!

Take advantage of higher education programs and professional development opportunities so you can make the most of your career. Keep an eye on the big picture as jobs you don’t necessarily like lead you to the ones you love. Rely on your fellow nonprofiteers (a new word) for moral and professional support. As you advance in your career, become the mentor you had or wish you had. Most importantly, drown out the external voices of doubt and carry on doing what you know you were meant to do.

Cheryl is the Deputy Director of Development for Mujeres Latinas en Acción in the Pilsen neighborhood. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past ten years with seven of those years being in a fundraising role. In addition to grant writing and corporate/foundation relations, she has broad experience in program planning, evaluation, and communications. Cheryl graduated with a BS in Mass Communication from Illinois State University in 2000 and earned her master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from DePaul University in 2008. She has been a member of YNPN Chicago since 2003 and currently serves as the Celebration Committee Co-Chair. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Latinos in Development.

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