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Careers in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector presents a specific mix of forms of organising. It combines both traditional organisations with strong hierarchies (e.g. Red Cross, hospitals) and project-based employment (e.g. cultural projects or relief organizations). Somewhat counterintuitively, these specific forms of organising do not imply specific forms of careers. Rather, careers in the nonprofit sector oscillate between different forms of organising, e.g. working for an established social care organisation may be one career step and participation in a drug prevention project the next. A common and crucial feature throughout the sector, though, is that funding limits employment contracts - even in traditional organisations. From an individual point of view, the nonprofit sector thus constitutes a career field in which career step has an "expiry date".

A career field with such characteristics is interesting for two reasons: (1) Future career fields are unlikely to offer either project or organisational forms of careers (e.g., the film industry as opposed to public administration). It is more likely that in the majority of cases permanent and temporary forms of organising will coexist. The nonprofit sector can be studied as a testing ground of such forms of the organising society. (2) With around 10 percent of an average Western economy's work force employed in the nonprofit sector (see Anheier …), this sector already constitutes a career field of considerable economic importance and academic interest. Nevertheless, careers in the nonprofit sector have not been systematically researched so far. Our paper aims to make a first step in this direction.

Firstly, we will outline the nonprofit sector as a career field. Marked not only by heterogeneous forms of organising and temporary employment, the nonprofit sector also differs from other economic sectors by its goals. As the term nonprofit suggests, performance is not primarily measured against financial indicators. Instead, various other goals exist, e.g. helping the poors or advocacy for ecological causes. In different subfields e.g. social care, health care, culture, education and politics elaborated standards of professionalisation exist. From an individual point of view, the nonprofit sector thus constitutes a much differentiated career field requiring unique career habitus and constellations of capital.

Secondly, we will analyse how individuals enact careers in this structural setting. This raises the question about unique motivational make-up of individuals and of the particular prerequisites needed for coping with employment in this field. What are the typical patterns of perception and behaviour which characterise nonprofit careers? We will identify the individual dispositions and forms of their enactment which mark careers in the nonprofit sector as they oscillate between different forms of organising. In doing so, we focus on two areas:

(i) Forms of capital that individuals draw upon (e.g. social capital derived from networks or cultural capital acquired within the educational system): Which forms of capital do they use to establish a career? Which forms of capital are especially useful for advancement in the field? Does social capital outweigh economic capital when career steps have an expiry date? How do individuals invest symbolic forms of capital to sustain their career?

(ii) Career anchors: Which career anchors are dominant? Are careers in the nonprofit sector really driven by a calling for a special cause and/or a dislike for the more economic sphere of management? Which role do traditional career anchors like security play when careers oscillate between different forms of organising? Are careers in the nonprofit sector driven by a typical preference for work-life-boundaries?

These questions will be answered drawing on an empirical study in the Austrian nonprofit sector. In order to understand which dispositions individuals draw upon and how they enact these dispositions during their careers, 20 managers of nonprofit organisations were asked to recount their career with respect to various aspects, e.g. education, tasks and the resources used to complete them, significant changes and relationships with other individuals. Material from these in-depth, semi-structured interviews was coded and analysed using NVivo. To sharpen analysis data was contrasted with a similar sample of business managers.