As a senior in college wondering what I should do with my life, I’d briefly considered joining a nonprofit organization. Of course, most people I spoke with warned me that I’d never make any real money with a nonprofit organization, and some even went so far as to make sure I knew if I got a job with a nonprofit it wouldn’t be a “real job”.

What a load of crap.

The problem is that there aren’t enough Millennials nowadays with a good understanding of what nonprofits actually do and why they are going to be so incredibly important in the next couple of years.

Value in a Growing Sector

Nonprofit careers actually mirror private and public sector careers in a lot of ways. Though we traditionally think of nonprofits as organizations that raise money to donate food or clothes, or that organize volunteers to rake leaves or clean up trash, we forget that the professionals who run these businesses–the PR people who set up the events, the accountants who track the flow of funds and expenses, and the IT and web dev people who set up the websites and mobile phone apps–are all people who were compensated for their work. There are a ton of different industries and professions tied directly into the nonprofit scope.

Proof of this was founded during the Great Recession period–we usually don’t think of job creation and economic growth during this time, but the nonprofit sector actually grew by 24% between 2000 and 2010 and isn’t showing signs of stopping. Let me repeat that–the nonprofit sector grew during the Great Recession. On top of that:

  • In 2010, the nonprofit sector contributed $804.8 Billion to the U.S. economy, which is 5.5% of the GDP.
  • During the recession the nonprofit sector added jobs at an average rate of 1.9% per year, while the private sector lost jobs at an average rate of 3.7% per year.
  • In 2010 nonprofits employed 10.7 million paid workers, which is about 10% of the entire U.S. workforce
  • The top 3 sectors nonprofits operate in are the fields of healthcare (57% of all nonprofits), education (15% of nonprofits), and social assistance (13% of nonprofits).

While the public and private sectors are still vastly larger than the nonprofit sector, the latter is gaining. So why such explosive and vibrant growth when it comes to nonprofits? The NY Times chalks it up mainly to a growing need for health care services, and they couldn’t be more right.

The Healthcare & IT Shortage

Without getting too thick in the politics, the passing and upholding of the Obama administration’s ACA and HITECH act simultaneously call for the vast implementation of new and improved technology in healthcare, and open the doors to a much wider market of healthcare recipients.

To accommodate increasing needs as well as comply with federal infrastructure guidelines, an estimated 5.6 million health care jobs will need to be filled by 2020, accounting for a 21% projected increase in health IT jobs between 2010 and 2020.

On top of that, millions of new patients are expected to flood the healthcare system in the coming years as more baby boomers retire and enter the senior and more delicate periods of their lives. Unfortunately, about one-third of all nurses and health professionals are these baby boomers that are about to retire.

So in simple terms, we’re looking at 75 million baby boomers entering the late stages of their lives, a government push for electronic healthcare, and not enough skilled IT workers and healthcare professionals in the public and private sectors to meet those needs.

The Nonprofit Solution

This perfect-storm shortage of nurses, tech professionals, and infrastructure in the face of increased demand has the potential to tax the American economy hard unless Millennials begin to embrace nonprofit careers and positions–and not necessarily just ones with a slant toward specific “healthcare skills”.

One great example of how many different aspects of business and industry collide with nonprofits can be shown in the plight of hospitals to implement electronic health records. People with experience in project management, business workflow management, budget planning and grant writing, workforce recruitment, IT and data security, and web development are just a few of the types that could excel in this one facet of the complex healthcare gem.

Beyond the simple fact that more and more businesses like Impact, Medisafe, and SwiftPayMD are already adapting and providing solutions for the healthcare industry, another reason that Millennials should be looking at nonprofits is that it fits their inherent wants more than most private and public sector jobs. This is because Millennials crave the type of purpose out of their workplace experiences that nonprofits provide (more on Millennial workplace culture and experience here).

So on one hand, the healthcare and IT shortage represents a serious problem with severe consequences. On the other, it represents The Millennial Opportunity: the ability to create change, excel at what we do, and truly make a difference in a world that needs us. That said, when it comes to the job hunt, or even the expansion of your already-existing business ventures, look no further than the nonprofit sector–because I guarantee that if you don’t, somebody else will.

Photo Credit: danielfoster437 via Compfight cc