The Rise of the Non-Profit: How Counselors Can Help Solve Problems in their Communities

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The nonprofit sector serves an important role in today’s society, providing the aid and necessary services to citizens at the local, national, and global levels in ways that governing bodies might not be able to fully address. Counselors who work in nonprofit organizations not only have a rewarding and lucrative career path, but they are also part of a field that helps meet the needs of senior citizens, veterans, disabled individuals, and children, as well as a number of other underserved populations.

Local and national organizations such as the Children’s Defense Fund, the World Bank, Teach for America and others employ counselors who combine their skills in mental health services, career counseling, and mentorship with their passion for addressing social problems in their communities.  

The Role of Nonprofits in Society

Nonprofit organizations play a pivotal role in today’s society, providing services that the community needs without being overly concerned about profit. Nonprofits aid in the development and upkeep of the arts, economic development, cultural awareness, spirituality, veterans affairs, women’s issues, and health and wellness.

Nonprofits have unique and strong ties to the communities they serve, often fulfilling the needs of specific marginalized populations in ways that the state and the federal government cannot. Due to their ties to the community, nonprofits are some are a powerful benevolent force for the populations they serve.

What do nonprofit counselors do?

The nonprofit sector is one of the most diverse sectors in the field of human services. Nonprofit organizations fill a number of niche services to populations that are generally underserved, or whose needs cannot be met by the state or federal government. Counselors in the nonprofit sector can expect to work with some of the country’s most marginalized populations in women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and LGBTQ outreach centers.

Due to their narrow focus, many nonprofits are able to tailor programs to meet the needs of a particular population. They tend to be more responsive to the needs of their workers and clients as they can quickly adjust to emergent circumstances in their organization, without the bureaucratic headache that state-run organizations can sometimes experience.

Counselors that work in the nonprofit sector are able to form deep and meaningful connections with their clients and members of the community, due to ongoing and lengthy contact. Because of this connection, nonprofit counselors report some of the highest rates of job satisfaction in the human services field.

“One of the advantages of working at a nonprofit is that you tend to have a very focused purpose that helps you to hone in on providing one particular service to a select part of the community, notes experts at HumanServices.Edu. “By having this focus, one can really achieve a tremendous depth in helping the community you serve. Rather than a generic, one-size-fits-all approach, the nonprofit is able to specifically tailor its program to the individuals within the community it supports.”

The job responsibilities for the nonprofit counselor will vary depending on the organization you work for. At a women’s shelter, one can expect to counsel women and children who have undergone trauma, abuse, and may require mental health treatment, career counseling, and access to resources that will enable them to leave potentially abusive situations in order to help them move on from abusive situations.

One such organization, the Raphael House in Portland, OR has developed specific specialized programs in order to aid domestic violence survivors in the Portland area.

“We believe that everyone deserves to live a life free from violence,” the organization’s mission statement reads. “The mission of Raphael House is to engage our entire community in non-violent living through advocacy, education, and community outreach, and by providing a safe haven from domestic violence.”

Counselors and employees at Raphael House work diligently to serve individuals and families of all backgrounds, cultures, ages, abilities, gender identities, and sexual orientations move on from abusive situations, by providing emergency shelter, advocacy services, youth programs, and educational outreach.

Another organization, Soldier On, helps former veterans who may suffer from complex mental health issues due to wartime conflict or childhood trauma. Utilizing a number of resources, groups like this provide services to veterans who may otherwise be debilitated by mental illness, and seek to provide housing, job training, financial and marital counseling, addiction treatment, and monetary assistance–stepping up in ways that the Department of Veterans Affairs cannot.

“The VA still plays a crucial role in veteran care,” writes Huffington Post contributor David Wood. “Nonprofits cannot duplicate the medical care it offers, its specialized brain injury work, the occupational therapy, and other advanced care it provides amputees and severely [physically] wounded veterans. But community-based nonprofit organizations are stepping up where the VA is falling short.”

Namely, Wood writes, the VA often foots the bill, while nonprofits put in the work on the ground floor.

“There are just some things that government can’t do, that independent organizations, working together locally, can do,” writes David W. Sutherland, a retired infantry officer who runs the Easter Seals Dixon Center in Cincinnati, which supports local initiatives to provide health, jobs and education support for veterans and their families.

Ultimately, job responsibilities will depend on the organization students choose to pursue a career in. Above all else, however, counselors in the nonprofit sector seek to make a difference in marginalized communities, and ultimately, impact their communities in a positive manner.

Career Outlook and Compensation for the Nonprofit Counselor

The career outlook for nonprofit organizations is staggering. According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nonprofit organizations employed over 11 million people in the United States alone–over 10.3 percent of the total U.S. private sector employment. These numbers had grown since the last measurement in 2007.

In areas like Washington D.C., as many as 26.7 percent of private-sector employees worked in a nonprofit organization.

“A major driver of this employment growth is the increased demand for healthcare services, which is driving growth in hospitals and healthcare organizations,” writes Bryce McKeever and Marcus Gaddy of the publication Nonprofit Quarterly. “More than half of all nonprofit workers are employed by the healthcare and social assistance industry (54.8 percent), which includes hospitals, mental health centers, crisis hotlines, blood banks, soup kitchens, senior centers, and similar organizations.”

Wages in the nonprofit sector are on a similar incline.

According to McKeever and Gaddy, “In 2003, nonprofit organizations paid an estimated $425 billion in wages. Ten years later, in 2013, total nonprofit wages had risen to $634 billion.”On average, over a decade, nonprofit wages increased by nearly 37.1 percent.

The nonprofit sector provides a number of career opportunities for counselors who are seeking a purpose-driven career in the human services field. Whether you hope to make a difference in your local community or seek to change circumstances for niche populations, working as a counselor in the nonprofit sector is both challenging and a rewarding endeavor with enormous potential for growth.

Wake Forest University Online Master’s in Counseling works to ensure that graduates are equipped with the skills necessary to become leaders and advocates capable of securing gainful employment in the nonprofit world. For information about this program and career opportunities that come with a Master’s in Counseling.

Additional Reading

Human Services vs Social Work: What’s the Difference?

Sources, “Employment in Human Services”
Raphael House, Resources
Huffington Post, “As The VA Flounders, Community Nonprofits Step In For Veterans”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nonprofits account for 11.4 million jobs, 10.3 percent of all private-sector employment”, “The Nonprofit Workforce: By the Numbers”