10 surprising skills you need to work at a not for profit

Posted by | September 4, 2018 | Charity sector insights, How I got my dream job, How to be awesome at your job, Work tips

10 surprising skills you need to work at a not for profit.

Working for a not for profit can be immensely rewarding and life-enhancing, but it’s important to be honest about the challenges too. That said, here are 10 surprising skills that’ll help you thrive at a not for profit. 

It’s not all solar power and organic roses. In the real world, not for profits often lack important resources and/or processes to allow their workers to do our jobs well. Even if our workplaces are truly incredible, the very nature of not for profit work can be draining and exhausting.

So, what to do? Let’s get real. Here are 10 surprising skills I wish I knew before working at a not for profit, matched with my favourite well-intentioned fictional characters.


Cadet Tilly from Star Trek. Skill #1. Use your outlets 

Not for profit work can be hard because we care about it so much. Our emotional investment means we might feel very sad, angry or disappointed when things go wrong.

Let’s get our coping mechanisms at the ready for the inevitable ups-and-downs.  Like Cadet Tilly, we need to feel our feelings so we don’t get stuck in them. Gardening, dance, art, boxing, therapy, yoga, talking to a friend or singing are all great places to start.

Cynthia from Call the Midwife. Skill #2. Keep work at work

Another problem with caring so much? We bring our worries, concerns or unfinished reports home with us.

Vegan brownies? No, this is a recipe for disaster. There’s a 82.5% chance that we’ll burn out and end up re-training to become a nun like Cynthia here.

How do we keep work at work? We create distinct boundaries between work and home. We don’t take unfinished reports home, or we only do work on our kitchen table. We create a ‘shutdown ritual’ that separates work from everything else like this one from Cal Newport.

Jane from 'Jane the Virgin' Skill #3. Maintain good boundaries

While you’re (#1) using your outlets and (#2) keeping work at work, there’s a good chance that many of your colleagues won’t be.

Like Jane Villanueva, I believe that kindness and support are very important. However, there’s a fine line between supporting a colleague and receiving a huge feelings-dump when you’re not prepared.

Think about what your boundaries are, communicate them to your colleagues and, very importantly, take action if they’re crossed.

Chidi from The Good Place.

Skill #4. Wear lots of hats

So, how do you feel about fedoras? There’s a good chance that you’ll need to wear a number of different hats in your role.

If you are, be reasonable in your own expectations of what you can do. Remember that you can ask for training or support in areas that are less familiar to you. If you’re Chidi Anagonye? You’ll need a lot.

Mike from Stranger Things.

Skill #5. Troubleshoot for tech issues

Fixing printers, troubleshooting WiFi problems and researching software might be a regular occurrence in your job. Having some degree of tech literacy is a huge plus at a small not for profit.

Luckily, there’s no need to geek out and form a Stranger Things-inspired team of technology nerds with your three favourite co-workers. Having the confidence to Google the issue and learning how to fix it is a priceless skill that will endear you to your Demogorgon manager.

Brook So-So from Orange is the New Black.

Skill #6. Research

Research skills give you a huge leg-up to gaining new skills and knowledge when you need them.

  • Don’t know how to write a media release? On it!
  • 50 ways to soothe your manager when you just called them a Demogorgon? Googling it right now.
  • What’s the context for this screenshot of So-So from OITNB? Researched it already.

But seriously, when you’re working for a resource-strapped not-for-profit, the ability to gather, filter and communicate new information and skills is invaluable.

Hermione Granger. Skill #7. Advocating – for yourself

You may be skilled at advocating for bees / against hate crime /  for house elf freedom, but are you skilled at advocating for yourself?

We deserve fair pay, fair treatment and reasonable working conditions.

Find out what the industry standards are for your role and advocate for them for yourself and your colleagues. If the industry standards are deeply flawed, look at joining forces with others to fight for deeper change. Join a union.

Newt from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Skill #8. Learning how to learn

There’s a big world out there. Expanding our existing skills and learning new ones makes us more content and better at our work. Many not for profits have a programme of professional development, but others can’t afford it, or don’t prioritise it.

If you’re in the later category, identify which fantastic beast you’re after and where you can find it. Look at training events, online courses and conferences. Some will have reduced rates for not for profits and your workplace may contribute some or all of the fee and cover your time, if you ask.

Britta from Community.

Skill #9. Financial stuff

Money is a big part of not for profit work, and some basic financial skills will invariably come in handy.

Managing finances can be pretty simple or immensely complicated depending on the size of a funding stream or project. Financial stuff doesn’t have to be The Worst.

It may be worthwhile to gain experience with budgets, tracking how funding is spent and reporting on finances. To start off, ask your current manager if you can administer funding for a small project – with their oversight.

Mary Poppins.

Skill #10. Make good tea

Inevitably, something will go wrong while you work at a not for profit (because: life). An important funding application will be declined, a colleague will have a personal crisis or the last female white rhino will die.

Nothing will ‘fix’ these situations. But doing nice things for your colleagues, however small, might just lift everyone’s spirits. A well-timed cuppa will definitely help the medicine go down.

Do you work for a not for profit? What skills do you wish you had before you started, surprising or otherwise? Share your suggestions in a comment below.

Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

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