Entrepreneurship is generally seen as the field for people who want to make some fancy new product no one has ever seen before. Entrepreneurs are all those millionaires who discovered a new way to butter toast or improved the coffee maker. So when I tell people that I want to use my major to go into social non-profit work, it’s interesting to see the different reactions.
Most people are nice and want to know what it is I’m passionate about, or whether I would ever consider a for-profit company that helps people (answer: yes). However, others will wonder why I don’t just volunteer or go on the occasional missions trip to feel fulfilled without the huge commitment. “Why isn’t volunteering in your free time enough?”, they will ask. Then there’s my personal favorite:
“That’s so noble of you… The non-profit sector is important, but… isn’t that a very poor paying job?”
Queue the crickets, please. When I realized that social innovation is what I want to do, I didn’t start counting pennies in a panic. Non-profit work is paid if you are a staff member and not a volunteer. Non-profit simply means that the organization itself doesn’t make any money. If it’s a very small non-profit then your salary may not be great, but that shouldn’t be the reason you’re working for the organization anyway.
What does entrepreneurship have to do with all of this? Entrepreneurs are skilled at creating new products and finding gaps that can be filled in some way. In the social non-profit sector, this means finding an unmet need, and working to relieve the pain through a product or, more likely, an organization. To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit that supports people with depression, addiction, and other mental health issues. In the founder Jamie Tworkowski’s case, the pain came to him in the form of thousands of letters. TWLOHA went from a single story to being one of the most popular mental health non-profits in America.
Whether Tworkowski realizes it or not, he was and is a social entrepreneur. Jamie Tworkowski is one of my entrepreneurial role models, and I am constantly inspired by his work. Currently, I am developing the barebones of a non-profit I want to launch someday that is focused on the children of severely mentally ill parents. Because of that, I’m always looking at ways others have been innovative in their social enterprise.
Non-profits are diverse and growing. They are constantly innovating and finding new approaches to old problems, and tweaking good solutions to make them better. Entrepreneurs are creating new non-profits all the time and are truly motivated to seek change. I want to be a part of that creativity and innovation, and use my skills to better the world.