At the end of church last Sunday, my 6-year-old handed me the bulletin insert on which he and his 2-year -old brother TC FoundationCroppedhad been drawing and said “Dad, if we can’t have sports careers, Teddy and I are going to run a school called the TC Foundation.”  Their logo is already designed; it’s T for Teddy, C for Charlie, by the way.  He later elaborated his plan, saying that that the school would be preK to 12 and that it would be a “different color skin school; so if you have different color skin, you can go to this school.”

After the post from our intern, Laura Rentler, earlier this month about choosing the nonprofit sector for her career, it makes me think about how people wind up in the nonprofit sector.

Laura’s aspiration and Charlie’s school-founding plan have some things in common:

1. They come from a place in the heart.  As the nonprofit sector has moved from leisure/charity for the wealthy to a  professional and credentialed domain over the last several decades, one important focus has been helping nonprofits act in a business-like manner.  That goal would make a not-bad elevator speech for the Bayer Center, in fact.  At its root, though, most people who find their way into nonprofits get here through a passion.  Generally, that passion gets expressed as making a difference in people’s lives.

2. They are Plan Bs.  Laura told her mother she wanted to be an accountant before the nonprofit notion arose unexpectedly.  Charlie is only planning to open his school if he and his brother “can’t have sports careers”.  Based on his hitting ability and his brother’s strong, accurate arm, the TC Foundation might have to wait until they retire from baseball (oops, is this my work blog or my proud father blog?).  In my experience, nonprofit careers have appeared in a surprising fashion as an option.  Sadly, I recall the cluelessness of the college career counselor who responded to my now-wife’s statement that she wanted to work in nonprofits with the ga-ga question “and do you need to get paid?”  Despite the advent of nonprofit management masters programs and the undergraduate certificate programs like Laura is earning, most of the entry points into nonprofit work come via a zig zag path.  For me, the nonprofit IT consultant gig followed ill-fitting goals in the advertising industry and as a literature professor and a masters degree in public policy.

3. They are clear visions. The way Laura describes it, it sounds like a switch flipped for her.  Charlie’s notion came right out of thin air but got specific quickly.  It seems like one need not set out to do nonprofit work to end up focused and driven to make a difference.

A key difference is that Laura is actually wrestling with the question of how she will be dependably paid to work in a job that feeds her passion.  Charlie hasn’t figured out that he needs to worry about that.  Maybe he’ll turn his attention to that when he hangs up his spikes and starts looking at a building to renovate for his school.