When Alison Daks graduated from Hightstown High School in 1990, like most of us she wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life. She was pretty confident that she wanted to get her undergrad degree (from Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y.) in sociology, but then what? A college internship helped her figure out that she wasn't cut out for a career in political science--a path that many sociology majors take--and she wasn't that passionate about advertising either, another popular career choice of her fellow "Soc" students. Then she took a family violence class as part of her degree requirements--and began to connect the dots to a clearer career profile. "That sparked an interest in me through some personal experiences," recalls Alison, 36. "I had a friend who was in a violent relationship in high school. It made the point of what could have been done differently for her."
That one spark ignited a lifetime pursuit. Alison went on to get her master's degree in social work from Rutgers University in 2001 and to sign up for regular volunteer work and ultimately a counseling internship with Womanspace, a nonprofit organization in Mercer County that provides services to individuals and families that are impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
In 2002, Womanspace hired Alison as full-time coordinator of its sexual assault support services program. In addition to coordinating and mentoring a team of volunteers, Alison supports rape victims and their families in the hospital as well as when they give formal statements to the police. "I love the program that I work for and the work we do. I think it's necessary," says Alison. "I do think that the people who work for nonprofits tend to have a passion for their particular work. There are hundreds and hundreds of causes out there. If it's something you're thinking about, find out about volunteering with an agency that deals with the kind of work that interests you and seeing if it does feel like the right kind of fit. It can be heavy work. If it's a good, supportive program there will be outlets in place for you to talk about the things that go on."
And what of the rumor that nonprofit employees are salary-challenged? Well, admits Alison, she doesn't expect to be buying a yacht anytime soon. Then again, it's all in your priorities. There's something to be said for passion over profits--with flexible hours thrown in for incentive. "Most nonprofits do what they can to make the salaries as competitive as they can be, but because they are getting their money from either federal or state grants or donations, they have to be much more savvy with their money to make sure the agency will be able to sustain itself," Alison explains. "There are some agencies that have laid people off because grant money has dwindled or they've lost a grant and so they're not able to sustain that position. That hasn't been the case at Womanspace. That said, I get more vacation and personal time than my mother-in-law, who has been at a pharmaceutical firm for a few years. And my time is pretty flexible. They try to make up for not giving you a huge salary by making other perks possible."
To learn more about salaries and job opportunities in NJ nonprofits, explore http://www.njnonprofits.org.