When 22-year-old Becky Andrews graduated from Indiana University last spring, she already had what so many young grads hope for: not just a college diploma, but a good job offer. In her case, she’d be using her degree in math and economics to work in financial management at General Electric.
Then GE made Andrews what she considered an even more enticing proposal: Would she like to defer her start date for a year to work at a nonprofit?
She quickly said yes.
“I still wanted the job, but I also really wanted to do a volunteer or nonprofit experience so I could develop different skills before I went to GE,” explained Andrews, who is now working at Commonwealth Care Alliance, a Boston health care organization for low-income patients. At CCA, she added, “they’ve given me so many responsibilities, and it’s helping me learn more about myself and my strengths and weaknesses.”
Andrews is among the first 11 members of ServiceCorps, a new program that launched in Boston and New York City this summer in partnership with GE and Citigroup. Through it, corporate-bound college graduates delay their for-profit careers to work full-time in the social sector.
They are paid between $35,000 and $40,000 in their nonprofit jobs, and during their deferral year ServiceCorps provides benefits such as health insurance and 401(k)s. It also covers any of their student loan repayments.
The program targets young people who are both pragmatic and idealistic, those who want to pursue traditional for-profit careers without giving up their aspirations to do service-oriented work.
“Historically, if you wanted to pursue service but you had a great job opportunity right out of college, the . . . costs of saying no to that position were too high,” ServiceCorps founder Matt Ronen said, “because if you say no to Google or Goldman Sachs or whomever, they might not call back — and that means the best and brightest in our society may never have an opportunity to do long-term immersive service opportunities.”
ServiceCorps eliminates that dilemma, he said, by allowing college grads who “feel pressure to choose between profit and purpose” to “secure and defer their corporate job offers.”
Ronen developed the program in part because of his own experience. After graduating from Colorado College in 2004, he was offered a job at the New York investment bank Oppenheimer & Co. and asked for a deferral so he could serve in the military. Oppenheimer declined his request.
Ronen joined the military anyway, forgoing his chance to work at the bank. That decision left him wishing other college graduates wouldn’t have to make the same difficult choice — and about a decade later ServiceCorps was born.
Other nonprofit programs offer young adults the opportunity to do service work immediately after graduation, including AmeriCorps, City Year, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America. But ServiceCorps claims to be the first and only national service program to guarantee participants a job after the program ends.
ServiceCorps does not recruit applicants. Instead, once college grads have received a job offer from one of the program’s corporate partners, they are offered the option of participating in ServiceCorps.
Once matched with a nonprofit partner, ServiceCorps participants in New York City are paid $40,000 a year, and in Boston they make $36,000.
ServiceCorps estimates that the cost of administering the program — including providing salaries and benefits to participants — is about $75,000 per person. Corporate partners pay ServiceCorps $35,000 per student to participate, and nonprofits pay $25,000 per student; the balance is intended to be covered by philanthropic supporters, whom ServiceCorps is now wooing.
For nonprofits, the program is meant to give them access to top-quality college grads whom they might otherwise have difficulty recruiting. While some nonprofits might blanch at the price of participation, Ronen insists that $25,000 a year is a bargain for the caliber of employee they’ll be receiving.
“You’re getting someone you can’t otherwise afford or attract,” he said.
Through the program, nonprofits also develop relationships with young people who might one day be substantial earners — and eventual donors.
For companies — Boston-based GE and New York-based Citigroup are currently ServiceCorps’ only two corporate partners — the program is pitched as an added inducement for job applicants, especially socially conscious millennials.
Many entry-level employees today “want a work environment that’s meaningful and motivating, and they want to have impact on a larger community,” said Raymond McGuire, Citi’s global head of corporate and investment banking, “and ServiceCorps allows them to do just that.”
Participating in ServiceCorps, he added, “is part of the overall effort to make Citi an attractive workplace . . . and to attract and retain the best talent.”
“Yes, it’s a recruiting tool,” agreed Julie Grzeda, global director of GE’s Early Career Talent Pipeline. “But it also helps us develop better leaders.”
“It’s not industry skills per se I’m interested in them getting” from the program, she said. “But as a company, we take on some of the world’s biggest challenges in health care and energy and transportation, so I’m interested in them growing their perspective, understanding what some of these issues are, and how they can make a difference.”
All the GE participants are working at Boston-area nonprofits, and when they finish their year of service they will work at GE locations throughout the country.
Ben Turnbull, 22, who graduated from the University of Virginia last spring, will work for GE Aviation in Cincinnati after he finishes his year of service at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers in Boston.
Turnbull’s nonprofit work differs significantly from the corporate job he’ll eventually be doing, “but I wanted to develop the versatility of working for a nonprofit organization that has different visions and missions” than a for-profit company, he said.
“I don’t think I’ll learn technical skills this year that will help me at GE next year,” Turnbull added, “but what I see here is a lot of purpose-driven work, and socially and personally I’m developing a lot, and that’s what I think will give me a leg up.”