Students Don’t Delay in Joining the Nonprofit Sector

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January 8, 2012; Source: Crain’s New York | The social awareness and idealism of many of today’s “post-millennials” is producing a growing trend of new nonprofit organizations run by college-age students, according to Crain’s New York. The story attributes the generational shift in outlook to students’ “desire to do something meaningful” and their “quest for individualism.” 

As examples of this new crop of nonprofit leaders, the story highlights Elie Lowenfeld, an NYU sophomore with Americorps experience, who started Jewish Disaster Response Corps, which organizes Jewish volunteers to provide support to disaster areas throughout the country. In just the past three years, and with support from NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, Lowenfeld’s annual organizational budget has grown from $10,000 to $187,000. 

Providing broader context for Lowenfeld’s choice, Clifford Schorer, a Columbia Business School professor, links it to a generational shift. He told Crain’s, “Before, students wanted to work for McKinsey. Then everyone thought they had the 100 millionth idea for the Internet.” He added, “Now kids have gone through down times and are thinking they want to be in control of their life and do something good for society.” The story also cites Jean Twenge, the author of Generation Me,who explained,“This generation doesn’t want to participate in these larger nonprofits that already exist. They don’t want to be another cog in the wheel.”

As a final note, Crain’s poses the question whether, with an estimated 25,000 nonprofits in New York alone, “the social service sector might be better served if these graduates took their talents to existing groups.” Large organizations can certainly be inefficient, but is working in an established nonprofit a necessary component of training for the field? What do you think?—Anne Eigeman