Bringing the Stimulus Plan Home: Obama's Effect on Nonprofit Jobs

by Erin O'Connor Jones, Director of Candidate Services



On February 17, 2009, the Obama economic stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - ARRA) was signed into law. The $787 billion package will provide resources across three areas: business, government, and the nonprofit sector. It is no secret that many individuals and nonprofits have been suffering and are in desperate need of additional resources to continue meeting their missions and the stimulus package will provide some assistance.


There are some unanswered questions about how the funding will directly impact the nonprofit sector, but the funding does provide an extraordinary opportunity across myriad areas such as the arts and humanities, energy, human services, housing, and public service to save or create new jobs by adding new or expanding existing programs. The stimulus package has a three-fold purpose to create a safety net to make it through the recession, build and improve the country’s infrastructure, and to save or create jobs across the country. Due to the enormity of the package, its impact will not be immediately measurable.


Overview of Funding Priorities

Certain segments of the nonprofit sector will receive more funding than others and its impact will vary state by state. All funding will expire in 2011 and is intended to be a one-time infusion of cash to jumpstart the economy during this difficult time. Given this short time period, states and nonprofit organizations will act quickly in order to fully access and maximize funding resources.


Across the nonprofit sector there will immediate relief for some agencies who are facing cash shortages or staff layoffs. The areas highlighted below demonstrate a portion of the significant resources available throughout the nonprofit sector (the complete stimulus bill can be found online at


Arts, Culture, and Humanities - The National Endowment for the Arts will receive $50 million to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts project and activities. This funding will help to preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sectors threatened by funding and philanthropic losses.


Energy and the Environment - The US Department of Energy allocation of $61.3 billion covers a broad spectrum of programs, initiatives, and research innovations together with funding an allocation to modernize and further develop our national electric smart grid. State and local agencies will have access to a range of grant funding including incentives to develop and invest in energy efficiencies. The Obama administration is committed to smart and efficient use of energy and expects funding to bolster efficiencies in low-income housing and state, federal, and local office buildings.


Housing and Homelessness - The Department of Housing and Urban Development will receive $12.7 billion of recovery funding which includes the one-time $8,000 tax credit funds for first-time home buyers. Funding reaches across many areas of housing such as the Public Housing Capital Fund, redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes, energy retrofits “green projects” in HUD-assisted housing projects, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), lead-paint abatements, and investment partnerships.


Public Service and Volunteerism - The Corporation for National and Community Service received $201 million of stimulus funding. These resources will fund an expansion of the AmeriCorps and VISTA programs, engaging an additional 13,000 individuals in national and state service programs.


Social Services - Funding to aid children, families, and elderly individuals totals $82.5 billion. Administered directly through the federal and state grants, the allocation includes (among many items) extended unemployment benefits through December 31, 2009, enhanced food stamp access, and increased funding for job training.

Four Million Nonprofit Jobs

The Obama Administration says that the stimulus plan will create or save three to four million jobs. It is still unclear how many of these four million jobs will be newly created, and how many will be saved from elimination in the private sector or because of state government funding reductions. Regardless of whether these jobs are new or merely saved – something we won’t know until all the money has been allocated and outcome evaluations begin in 2010 – two things are clear: first, there will be more competition than ever and, second, the skills sought in new hires will change.


With or without the stimulus funding, there will continue to be jobs in the nonprofit sector because of naturally-occurring turnover, retirements, and leadership transitions. In addition to the usual numbers of traditional nonprofit jobseekers in the market, competition for open positions will be even fiercer with an influx of sector-switchers and encore-careerists looking for opportunities outside the private, for-profit sector during this economic downturn. Savvy job seekers will review areas of the stimulus package receiving the most new dollars, like alternative energy, education, healthcare, and public service, and pursue new careers in these areas.


In addition, nonprofit organizations are answering the demands of a different type of funder and, as such, the skills they need in their candidates are changing. Nonprofits are focused now more than ever on recruiting candidates with demonstrated experience and skills in the following areas:


Accountability: With increased pressure for return for every dollar, funders are tightening reporting requirements on grants. Managers who know how to manage with kindness while also demanding accountability from staff and programs will find greater success in their nonprofit careers.


Earned Revenue Generation: As more and more nonprofits desire to stand alone from the whims of funders, focus on the double and triple bottom line has increased. Nonprofit job seekers with experience generating income though mission-driven activities, i.e., job training programs where participants operate a business, will be able to make a stronger case for their candidacy over the competition.


Fundraising: As always, and in any economic environment, those who can produce a solid track record of fundraising success are highly prized and can often command larger salaries and titles. Further, grant writers capable of translating highly technical government jargon will be able to find full time or consultative arrangements shepherding millions of ARRA grant dollars into their nonprofit employers.


Mergers , Consolidations, and Collaborations: Across the sector, funders, nonprofit boards and agencies are asking difficult questions about duplicate services and shrinking funding resources in order to maintain their fiscal and programmatic health. As such, nonprofit job seekers with direct experience managing the intricacies of marrying competitors and cultures in mergers, consolidations, and collaborations will be highly prized, especially at the executive level.


If you are interested in learning more about the Obama stimulus package and its potential impact on your job search, there are endless resources for tracking funding across all sectors. The most-up-to-date site is the Federal government’s recovery site which is dedicated to tracking and monitoring the impact of the funds. As stimulus funds are distributed to states and programs, the site updates the number of jobs created, new programs, and tax benefits. This is a difficult and competitive job market which makes it even more important for job seekers to be flexible, think strategically, act like an entrepreneur, and utilize their network to attain a new job.


This comprehensive list of resources will help job seekers to track and identify Federal, state and local funding resources, potential job opportunities and relevant information in the nonprofit sector:

Federal, State and Local Resources

Resources for the Job Seeker and the Nonprofit Sectors

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