I was never destined for the life of a high-income individual. While I was in elementary school, I decided, like many young individuals inspired by good teachers, to become a teacher myself. As I developed an aptitude for mathematics, science, computer programming, languages, and music throughout my time in public school, I eventually leaned towards the arts. I studied music education as an undergraduate, with the intent to teach music in a high school.
Teachers can make a decent living depending on where they teach, and teachers who earn a graduate degree or decide to become administrators can enhance their income nicely. It’s a long path, though, unlike some engineers or technology-minded entrepreneurs who can generate a nice income after four years of college. I did, however, decide not to pursue public school teaching, and I found my way to the non-profit sector, earning less than I would have, had I continued the path of teaching in a high school.
My work for the non-profit, often working 80 to 120 hours a week during certain parts of the year, forgoing sleep and health in exchange for a salary that allowed me to pay for my commute and nothing else, was psychologically rewarding but emotionally and financially draining.
If you have a drive that matches the mission of a non-profit, this type of work might be right for you. If you have no need to be concerned about your financial situation — either you have a trust fund or a spouse willing to support you — you will have an easier time trading the chance to earn a solid income for the satisfaction of doing good in the world. If you are not financially endowed, but you still have the desire to work in a non-profit industry that does not pay well, accept the following ideas:
- You may need to find alternate sources of income with the limited time you may have outside of your job.
- The concept of a retirement involving a respite from working in exchange for income may not be in your future.
- Your living situation might require compromises, like renting rather than buying a home or choosing a location you might not otherwise consider.
Not every non-profit organization requires a financial compromise. In a recent year, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra earned a salary of over $400,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but consider the business equivalent of a concertmaster in one of the five best orchestras in the United States would be an executive level employee at one of the five biggest companies in the United States, a position that would demand a salary in the millions of dollars. That makes the $400,000 salaries in the non-profit arts industry far and few between. If you are one of the best in the world at what you do, you can earn a comfortable living, but most non-profit workers will not fit that description.
Would you pursue a career in non-profit without an alternative source of income?
Published or updated March 9, 2012.