Liberal Arts Educations and Nonprofit Careers

2016-03-30 09.09.10
Amanda Neumann

The value of Liberal Arts educations has become an especially prominent discussion in Fort Wayne, as Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne has proposed changes, namely through the University Strategic Alignment Process (USAP) report.

The USAP report offers a slew of recommendations, the most controversial of which is restructuring of nine departments in the College of Arts and Sciences (COAS). In a response rejecting the report, COAS faculty stress the importance and value of Liberal Arts educations.

This response from the faculty highlights how Liberal Arts educations provide more than training for a specific career or career field—they provide students with invaluable skills aimed at personal and professional growth that also “enables them to be productive citizens of their local, regional, national, and international communities.

And these skills are vital to gaining entry into successful careers. 

And as a recent graduate from IPFW’s College of Arts and Sciences, I can clearly see how my Liberal Arts education kindled my passion for philanthropy and prepared me for entering the nonprofit field. While not all Liberal Arts graduates pursue full-time careers in the nonprofit sector, there are many ways that Liberal Arts graduates are vital to the local and global philanthropy.

How do Liberal Arts Educations and Nonprofit Organization Connect?

Who is best fit to work in a nonprofit?

A study published by The Wall Street Journal states that individuals best fit for nonprofit careers are “natural leaders with a strong sense of empathy, a passion for helping others, and unlimited perseverance in the face of setbacks will be successful in the field.” This describes Liberal Arts graduates to a tee. Further, Liberal Arts educations stress the importance of flexibility and creative problem solving, which requires a certain level of perseverance.

Do Liberal Arts degrees lead to nonprofit careers?Liberal Arts Capture

While many people pursue graduate degrees in nonprofit management, most nonprofit professionals have no formal education directed at nonprofit careers.

However, the skills learned in Liberal Arts educations are highly sought after in most job markets. One study showed that 93% of employers agree that a candidates demonstrated critical thinking ability, complex problem solving, and effective communication is more important than their undergraduate major.

How do Liberal Arts graduates fit into the future of nonprofits?

Is freelancing the future of nonprofits? A recent article published by Top Nonprofits suggests that while millennials aren’t interested in the classic 9-5 workdays, that doesn’t mean they’re not interested in fulfilling nonprofit careers. There are a few ways that hiring freelance or contract employees is beneficial to nonprofits.

For example, nonprofit organizations can hire for a specific skill, such as grant writing, online marketing, or research. Hiring freelance or contract employees for specific projects or programs can also help organizations work within their budgets–as many organizations may not be able to afford a full time grant writer or creative marketing strategist.

In many ways this makes Liberal Arts graduates perfect for freelance contracts with nonprofit organizations. Additionally, freelancing for nonprofits also helps recent college graduates, or even students, to involve themselves in an organization they may not have the time or resources to volunteer with.

How can Liberal Arts programs help local nonprofits?

Undergraduate Liberal Arts programs often offer internship or service learning opportunities to students. These opportunities can be internships at local businesses, independent service projects, or internships at nonprofits.

Through these opportunities universities and nonprofits can work together to help to train and support the next generation of nonprofit professionals and volunteers. By hiring students for internships that equate to college credit, nonprofits can help both the students and their organizations. Students without the resources or financial means to volunteer for nonprofit organizations, or take unpaid internships, are offered the opportunity to merge education and philanthropy–while adding to their LinkedIn resume. Likewise, universities benefit from working with local nonprofits by helping strengthen local their local communities.

What do local Liberal Art graduates have to say?

“My Liberal Arts educational has majorly influenced my success in my job. At the center we have children from lots of different socioeconomic, racial, and religious backgrounds. A liberal arts education is usually comprehensive in that you take classes from multiple disciplines. Being exposed to and learning about psychology, sociology, anthropology, African American studies, etc. has given me the information I need to be able to relate with and be sensitive to the diverse student population I work with. At least half of all the instructors I work with have liberal arts educations and it’s wonderful working with people who can bring their own specialized perspectives to discussions about students in a respectful way. It also helps that we have some education in each other’s disciplines, as we are able to support or challenge each other’s ideas based on our own knowledge. This collaborative environment really elevates the services we provide for the children we work with. I have a hard time understanding why people devalue a liberal arts education when I see its value every day I’m at work. If people could not receive liberal arts educations, I believe you would have a hard time finding workers who are ready to serve the diverse populations you see in nonprofits.” 
Abbie Harter
Degree: B.A. in Psychology
Nonprofit: Fort Wayne Center for Learning

“I’d say that graduating with a degree in theatre freed me up to do what I want. I didn’t feel like I had to pursue a certain path because there really is no direct path in art. I approach my work with curiosity, which is absolutely necessary in solving problems in a waiver home for people with disabilities.”
Joel Miller
Degree: B.A. in Theater
Nonprofit: Bethesda Lutheran Communities

“After completing a baccalaureate degree in nursing, I finished a certificate program in Women’s Studies at IPFW.  In my current role I work on projects that strive to reduce infant mortality in northeast Indiana.  My liberal arts education prepared me to work and partner with other non-profits and to better understand and respect the people and cultures that make up my community.
Erin Norton
Degree: BSN, Certificate in Women’s Studies
Nonprofit: Parkview Health



Reflections from an Intern

As my time as the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center intern draws to a close, I’ve reflected on all I’ve learned about the nonprofit sector. Katrina Pieri for wordpressBelow are just a few highlights that I’m unlikely to ever forget.

Records Maintenance is Key

If there’s one very important thing I’ve learned about running programs at a nonprofit, it’s that you should ALWAYS maintain accurate records: attendance sheets, evaluations, etc. Not only do records help you evaluate and improve your programs, they’re usually required by funders. You think your program is “doing well” and deserves to be funded for another year? Show your statistics that prove this success!

Start-Ups Require Plans                                                                                                 

If you’re starting or plan to start a nonprofit, have a plan in place! This is one of those no-brainers that actually requires way more work than most people realize. Before you incorporate your organization and reach for that 501(c)(3) status, do your best to think through every aspect of your business-esque plan. Where do you currently get your funding from, and are these sources sustainable? Have you formed a board of directors? Do you have concise mission and vision statements? I could go on; you all know that, I’m sure. My point is that by sitting in on various “501(c)(3) To Be or Not To Be” consultations here at the Center, I’ve learned that a vast amount of detail goes into preparation for a start-up. Let me tell you, I won’t be starting a nonprofit any time soon!

Professional Development is Ongoing

There’s a reason why we offer a variety of classes and programs here at the Center: professional development in the nonprofit sector is ongoing. Sure, we offer plenty of programs for those just entering nonprofits who are in need of basic guidance, but we also offer programs such as Boot Camp 2.0 which are geared toward nonprofit professionals who want to continue their growth. Entering a nonprofit does not mean that you automatically understand the ins and outs of the work; sustained growth requires ongoing professional development, which is a lifelong learning process. The sector is always changing, and we have to grow and adapt with it!

Passion Drives the Sector              

This is, once again, basic knowledge that most nonprofit professionals probably know in their very core: passion drives this sector. It’s crucial in a field where employees are often over-burdened, wearing too many hats, and struggling to cobble together (usually restricted) funding from different sources. In reality this wasn’t news to me when I started my internship at the Center. Instead, I was impressed with the amount of passion I’ve seen here in the Allen County nonprofits. The professionals I’ve met have amazed me with their intense passion for helping the community. I feel extremely honored to have met and worked with such energized do-gooders!