How Gen Y and Nonprofits can Benefit from a Bad Economy

Much of the discussion surrounding the impact of the weak financial market on nonprofits focuses on donations. While corporations are responsible for only about 10% of the funds received by nonprofits, the relationship extends beyond money to time (board members and volunteers) and resources (space and advertising) that are very useful to any nonprofit that receives them.

However, what impact does this change have the thousands of young people who pursue investment banking right out of college? No longer is investment banking the secure lucrative career many recent college grads think they are. After all, once the 4th largest investment banking firm files for chapter 11 and others quietly rearrange themselves, well, it’s time to rethink career paths.

Rodger Cohen sums up the impact of sudden change in the economy perfectly: “We’re witnessing the passing of more than a venerable firm. We’re seeing the death of a culture.”

A culture that places such premium on money and power that young people who might otherwise focus their attention elsewhere feel compelled to follow. Cohen continues,

“When I taught a journalism course at Princeton a couple of years ago, I was captivated by the bright, curious minds in my class. But when I asked students what they wanted to do, the overwhelming answer was: “Oh, I guess I’ll end up in i-banking.”

It was not that they loved investment banking, or thought their purring brains would be best deployed on Wall Street poring over a balance sheet, it was the money and the fact everyone else was doing it.”

However, the number of recent grads signing up to do banking has steadily decreased and many are reevaluating other passions and interests.

So here’s my suggestion: get into the public sector.

Take your intellect, creativity, and detail oriented tendencies to create new programs addressing social problems; think of ways to generate money while serving others i.e. social entrepreneurship.  Join a young professionals group at a nonprofit to better explore your options. Help analyze policies for a think tank or work with a political watchdog group.

As I have stated before, the nonprofit sector’s greatest asset is its diversity, allowing a place for everyone. Money shouldn’t be an issue: there is no such thing as security and everyone is going broke.

Read How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of
New Ideas
and The Non-profit Career Guide to get a sense of what’s out there and where you fit in. Cohen recommends A New Bank to Save Our Infrastructure for socially minded bankers.

And nonprofits: realize the enormous opportunity we have here. You have access to a crop of “number” people, use them to better organize information and create transparent documents about where money is going; have them develop interesting ways to generate income outside of asking others.  If you can’t pay like a corporation, offer better benefits that enable people to deepen their commitment to the organization.

As our leaders prepare to step down for retirement there is a swelling number of young people looking for a place where they will not get lost and where their talents are appreciated.  Engage them either as employees or as a group with new concerns that can be explored for our mutual benefit.

As we go through a culture shock, questioning more than ever the validity of security and how much money matters, we should reach out, collaborate, and see how we can come out stronger.