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Live United: Teach youth about working in a nonprofit as a career

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


Did you know that the nonprofit sector accounts for 13% of the job sector in Minnesota? When job hunting, students don’t often think about, “I’m going to work in nonprofits.” Their description is either much more specific, such as, “I’m going to be a nurse,” or “I’m going to be a teacher.” Or it’s more vague, such as, “I want to help people somehow.”

Students should be taught clearly exactly what nonprofits are and their place in the marketplace. It’s a powerful sector with a wide variety of options, and it is vital to the growth and stability of Minnesota. Last school year, I went and spoke to eighth graders about the nonprofit sectors. Every single student thought that because I worked for a nonprofit, I didn’t get paid. They didn’t think that working in the nonprofit sector was something they could do, because you don’t make money. As much as I enjoy the challenges of my job, I wouldn’t be able to justify working full time and paying daycare for two children full time without a paycheck. I get it though. Even in college, I didn’t think, “I want to work for nonprofits.” Even sitting in an adviser’s office, discussing the wide variety of things I was interested in, nonprofits were never brought up. I was told, “teacher, or social worker.” I got my degree in social work but always felt a little out of step, because I knew I didn’t want to be a traditional social worker. Let’s make sure our community recognizes nonprofits as a viable place to look for jobs, and not to narrow the margins so much. I’ve challenged community members in the past to involve their children in volunteering. Use that opportunity to discuss with your child the importance of supporting the paid work staff are doing. Volunteers expand capacity of nonprofit, and paid staff are the glue that hold it together. We need some superglue instead of washable school glue.

On the flip side, let us make sure we can provide these nonprofits with the means to recruit, hire and retain quality staff.  I often hear, “I don’t want to pay someone’s paycheck.” While I understand the intent behind that statement, we also need to consider that nonprofits need quality employees just as any business does. Payroll can and should be a reasonable portion of any nonprofit budget. In fact, volunteers are estimated at an hourly rate of $25.43. United Way of Freeborn County currently has 12 volunteer BOD that serve a minimum of 12 hours a year. (this is pretty bare bones minimum). That’s a $3,661.92 payroll right there — base salary. Yet often paid staff in our area nonprofits have a lower wage and higher responsibility than our volunteers. 

Without careful consideration of this, staff can easily get burned out, trying to make do on less or leave the nonprofit job to seek positions in the corporate world.

Don’t worry, I’m not asking for a pay raise. That’s not what this is about. I simply want to point out that nonprofits must employ essential business sense in talent management. After all, the nonprofit sector covers our teachers, our health care our social workers. Shouldn’t we ensure that our nonprofits can hire the quality employees for our most vulnerable populations? 

Currently, I know of four paid positions open in our area. One is with our own office, the Americorps VISTA position that I mentioned last week. The other three are with SEMCAC, one of our partner agencies. The three positions with SEMCAC are part-time, coordinating or assisting the nutrition programs for seniors. These programs are incredibly important in our area, not only providing seniors with nutritious meals, but with a regular check-in and socialization for seniors who may be otherwise isolated. UWFC placed a volunteer driver for meal delivery. She mentioned that the food smelled delicious. As a talented cook herself, she’d know! If you’re interested in learning more about the Americorps VISTA position, please call our office at 507-373-8670. For the positions in food service at SEMCAC, please call Jeff Wyant at 507-864-8229.

In other news, I’m thrilled to share two important announcements. First, NAMI of Freeborn County is an organization providing education, advocacy and support for those with mental illness. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic halted their important work of weekly peer support meetings. Today they announced that they would have a “Resource Check-In” hotline. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, please sign up to get a weekly phone call. This phone call is not for therapy, but rather to make sure community members know where to get help. Sometimes during a mental health crisis, it’s difficult to remember the information you already know about support networks. NAMI of Freeborn County will be providing this service through Aug. 30. To sign up, or for more information, call 507-481-8818.

Last but not least, United Way of Freeborn County is proud to announce the opening of grant applications for the Safety Net Fund. UWFC has approximately $55,000 to allocate. Grant applications are due July 31. UWFC is working to get the application up on the website. Until then, applications may be requested to be emailed or mailed to your organization by calling our office at 507-373-8670 or email general@unitedwayfc.org.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.