When talk turns to job creation, rarely does the nonprofit sector get mentioned.
But, in Oklahoma, nonprofits added more jobs recently than the for-profit sector, according to researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies.
From 2007 through 2009, nonprofit jobs increased by 2.1 percent; in contrast, jobs in the for-profit sector declined by 2.1 percent.
"You have to remember that the nonprofit sector is extremely diverse," said Sarah Chancy, director for the Oklahoma Alliance of Nonprofits, part of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.
Chancy noted that museums, universities and hospitals can be nonprofits, as well as food pantries, after-school programs and animal shelters, among other types of nonprofits.
"Even though we're known for oil and gas here, nonprofits actually employ more people," Chancy said. According to the center's report, which was based on special access to government employment statistics, Oklahoma in 2010 had 76,100 nonprofit jobs.
Nationally, health care dominates the nonprofit employment picture. Hospitals and nursing homes employed 48 percent of all nonprofit workers in 2010, according to the center's report.
"What we've seen is, nonprofits are clustered in fields that are growing, so they are experiencing employment growth," said Stephanie Geller, a co-author of the report.
But that doesn't mean growth is only associated with health care industries. Geller said arts organizations, for example, are also adding jobs. While only 3 percent of nonprofit workers in 2010 had a job in the arts, among all non-government arts jobs, 14 percent were with nonprofit organizations, the study noted.
Tulsa County has more than 4,000 nonprofits registered with the Internal Revenue Service, Chancy said. Of course, many are inactive. As far as jobs, no specific information is available for Tulsa. Geller said her group wants to do a more detailed study.
"We're trying to get funding to convert data in our national report into Congressional districts so we can actually show legislators and people running for office how many jobs are growing in the nonprofit area," Geller said.
To start a nonprofit or expand, often it takes more than just good intentions.
"The funding environment is challenging for nonprofits, and in particular, a lot of nonprofits have a hard time getting growth capital, capital to expand, capital to start," Geller said.
One survey done last year of nonprofits that receive United Way funding found that while 18 organizations hired staff for new positions, another 15 reduced the size of their staff and six didn't fill vacant positions, said Brent Ortolani, vice president of marketing for the Tulsa Area United Way.
Perhaps one sign of surging interest in nonprofits is a nonprofit management certificate program offered by the University of Tulsa.
Chancy said workers often select nonprofit work after careful consideration.
"I think they're often following their passion," Chancy said.
Cindy Hodges Cunningham, director of legal services for Domestic Violence Interventions Services, commonly referred to as DVIS/Call Rape, said she's working her "dream job."
"I get to help people every day ... I have the luxury, I think you could say, of being able to create effective solutions for people, or responses to peoples' needs, so it allows me to be creative in a way that's not a corporate-type structure," Hodges Cunningham said.
She may help someone with a divorce or protective order or another family law issue, and every person's life is different with different needs, Hodges Cunningham explained. And by working to help a person instead of being assigned a specific case, as she once did as a federal public defender, Cunningham said her work has a broader impact.
After graduating in 1991 with a law degree from the University of Tulsa, Hodges Cunningham worked for DVIS, helping domestic violence victims get protective orders.
"At that time it became really clear to me that DVIS wasn't ready to have a legal department," Hodges Cunningham said.
But the organization has grown over the years, said Rachel Weaver, community relations coordinator for the group. Now, the organization employs 85 workers.
Hodges Cunningham oversees two attorneys. She chose early on a career path different than some of her better-compensated classmates.
"I could go to work for a private firm and put in as many hours as the firm required, make a lot of money, have a lot less stress," Hodges Cunningham said, adding "there's a certain amount of pride, and no doubt skill and effort that goes into that."
But it just wouldn't be her.
"I just don't think that that would be satisfying to me, and I think that I would be bored," she said.
Chancy said job seekers should be prepared to deal the economics of nonprofits.
"One thing that is pretty common is that, typically, nonprofit salaries are going to be lower than other private sector salaries," Chancy said.
Geller said that while that may be true, some data within specific industries show a different trend. "We find that nonprofits often times pay more than their for-profit counterparts," she said.
Chancy added: "Nonprofit workers are there because they care about what they're doing and because there's a great need for it."
Oklahoma's reputation for philanthropy is well-deserved, said Chancy.
"There are several different reports out. Some measure giving by household, some per capita. We're either first or third in the nation," Chancy said.
Overall, government budget cutbacks can hurt nonprofits, Chancy said.
"The nonprofits work really hard when that happens to find ways to adjust or raise funds," Chancy said.
She said it's wrong to think of nonprofits are relying on volunteers, though many do utilize volunteer workers.
"We operate as businesses," Chancy said.
For workers, Hodges Cunningham said she thinks there may even be a "stigma" that those working nonprofit jobs somehow can't cut it in the private sector.
It may not be glamorous, but the work has its own form of recognition, Hodges Cunningham said.
"I really do not know anybody that's impressed that I work for a nonprofit," Hodges Cunningham said. "I have had people tell me, 'I appreciate the work your agency does. I think it's really important.' And that feels good."
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