They pay people to work here? The role of volunteering on nonprofit career awareness and interest

Erin K. Nelson, University of Memphis


Individuals have several possible points of introduction into the nonprofit sector including parental socialization, volunteering, and academic engagement. However, little is known in regard to how individuals learn about the nonprofit sector as a place of employment and become interested in nonprofit careers. Individuals are often exposed to nonprofit “work” for the first time as a volunteer. This research examines the particular experiences nonprofit employees had prior to their entry into the sector that may have influenced their selection of a nonprofit career. Results of this mixed-methods inquiry indicate that volunteering is an important conduit, as it allows people to see that paid employment exists in the nonprofit sector and allows them to better understand the various career options and career trajectories available to them. Finally, this paper discusses the practical implications for nonprofit practitioners and academic advisors, and their roles in connecting service to career.