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Four charts that should scare the nonprofit sector

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In the weeks since our Tumblr “When You Work at a Nonprofit” has taken off, we’ve received many thanks from tired and frustrated nonprofit staffers, as well as a few responses with familiar sound bites we often hear in the sector: “But nonprofit has so many other rewards,” “It’s so much more meaningful than corporate,” “People will always complain,” and on and on.

I’ve been struggling to find a way to really summarize the effects of the culture of nonprofits on the people who work in them, and what it means to the sector as a whole. And I wondered if there was some online data that could show it clearly. Then I remembered Google Trends, a tool that shows how many people are searching for a specific topic.

And there, in the charts, the effects of the issues highlighted in WYWAAN stared me in the face. Mind blown.

Here they are in four charts:

Chart 1: The number of people looking for jobs at nonprofits

I searched “nonprofit jobs” (blue line) and “non-profit jobs,” (red line) and depending on which term you’re looking at, the number of people searching for jobs at nonprofits has gone down by either half, or two-thirds since pre-2005.

Screenshot of Google Trends.

Chart 2: Search traffic for, the largest nonprofit job site

Screenshot of Google Trends.

Chart 3: The number of people looking for jobs at social enterprises

While the nonprofit industry has gone along as usual, social enterprise has risen in popularity. Because it combines social benefit with a business model, it has become an attractive option for people who want to do good in the world, be a part of a growth company, as well as pay the bills. The blue line represents searches for “jobs social enterprise” and the red line is “social enterprise jobs.”

Screenshot of Google Trends.

Chart 4: The number of people looking for jobs in “social good”

The blue line represents searches for “social good jobs” and the red line is “jobs social good.”

Screenshot of Google Trends.

There is some good news on the horizon: the number of people looking for jobs in “social good” is going up. The term “social good” has risen in popularity over the last few years, and according to its technical definition, it includes both nonprofits and social enterprise.

However, nonprofit is losing the definition war, in the “social good” space.

When you search “social good,” the first three results are the Mashable Social Good Summit, or related entities. Mashable, a technology and social media blog, created the Social Good Summit (SGS) to bring big world-changing ideas together with innovative solutions, and to leverage technology to solve global challenges.

Screenshot of Google search.

A list of the star-studded speaker shows 15% government representatives, 65% social enterprises, 10% “other” (i.e. celebrities, musicians), and 10% nonprofits (my rough estimates based on reviewing the speaker page).

Mashable is making social good sexy, and nonprofit is barely part of the conversation.

What have we done to our industry?

We’ve made our bed. The issues highlighted on WYWAAN show the clear path to how we got here. Word gets around, and through the issues highlighted on the blog, the nonprofit sector has become an unattractive place to make a career.

Nonprofit is losing bright, motivated, socially-minded people, who now have another option for a career with meaning. And this option has afforded these bright, socially-minded people the things we have not: innovation, use of technology, well-paying salaries, and growth opportunities. If given the choice between a cash-strapped nonprofit in an industry with a terrible reputation and little growth opportunity or a scalable social enterprise that just received a seed investment, which would you choose?

What can we do?

Do we work tirelessly to reclaim the term “social good”? Do we, as Dan Pallotta intends to do, create a nonprofit anti-defamation alliance to make sure our reputation as a sector stays intact?


We fix what’s broken, and make the nonprofit sector an attractive place to find a job and build a career. And that starts in each organization, at the top. It starts with some tough conversations about how we have chosen to do things, and how we could do them differently. And it starts by discarding the excuses we’ve leaned on for so long, really hearing the problems, and addressing them head-on.

You don’t have to be flush with cash to create a healthy working environment. Respecting people’s time, being willing to try new things, giving people the ability to make their own decisions, eliminating waste and inefficiency, and listening to complaints without defensiveness—these are completely free, and available to you now.

These charts are a wake-up call. Without some serious change, the trend will continue. What will the charts look like next year?

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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