Five things you should know before working at a not for profit

Posted by | May 6, 2019 | Career changers, Charity sector insights

5 things you should know before working at a not for profit.

The satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made a real difference? That’s hard to beat. Working at a not-for-profit (NFP) can be absolutely amazing, but it’s not always going to feel like laughing-while-eating-an-organic-salad. Sometimes, working at NFP can feel like being trapped on an island filled with dinosaurs. 

While I’m not trying to dissuade you from working at a NFP (no way!) it’s always good to be prepared. Like dinosaurs at Jurassic Park, NFPs come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and hunger for human flesh. You’ll meet benevolent herbivores and also you’ll meet those veering towards the T-Rex end of the scale.

Rather than being blissfully unaware and getting bitten in the face, I believe it’s better to be upfront with possible challenges. Here are five things you should know before working at a NFP.

Dinosaur 1. NFPs aren’t immune to bad work culture

Contrary to our optimistic expectations, a great cause doesn’t necessarily mean great work culture. 

At some NFPs, long hours and a high-stress environment are shrugged off as a necessary evil. In rare cases, workers may be bullied, experience discrimination or not get access to support when they’ve witnessed a traumatic event on the job.

Before you decide to work at a specific NFP, see if a friend can connect you with someone who currently works there. Ask some super-subtle questions about work hours, stress levels and expectations from management. 

Dinosaur 2.

Your salary will be low – until you’re the CEO

It’s widely accepted that most NFP jobs pay way less than their corporate counterparts, at least until you reach the ranks of senior management. Why? Because NFPs are usually under-funded and under-resourced. 

For NFP workers, lower pay is accepted as the trade-off for choosing a job we care about.  If earning more money is important to you, a social enterprise may be a better fit. Social enterprises run on start-up or corporate business models and usually come with a bigger paycheck.

Dinosaur 3.

Innovation looks different at a NFP

With limited funds and the need to report on every dollar spent, there’s limited room at most NFPs for taking risks. The change of pace can be slooooooow if you want to implement a new IT system, revolutionise a staff process or try out a new training programme. 

That said, with big limitations come BIG opportunities for creative problem-solving! If you’re an ‘ideas person’, a NFP can be the perfect place for you to use your superpower – once you understand the context and accepted things won’t be the same as a ‘for profit’ environment.

Dinosaur 4.

You need to protect against burnout

Have you ever felt exhausted, bitter, detached and like you’re going nowhere at work? That’s burnout. 

NFP work can provide a perfect environment for burnout due to high personal investment. 

Protect yourself by creating habits that help you chill out, express yourself and connect with others in real life. Setting your own (reasonable!) expectations for the amount of work you can do is a MUST.

Dinosaur 5.

You won’t always feel like you’re making a difference

Like any job, NFP work will involve boring paperwork, mundane administrative tasks and getting up early on a Tuesday when you want to sleep for 1,000 more hours. 

In some roles, you won’t see the social or environmental impact of your hard work firsthand. You may be motivating the volunteers in the back office, designing the website or doing the accounts. At other times, you may feel like you’re going nowhere. A really important funding application might get declined, an endangered species might go extinct, or a client may backtrack out of the blue. 

For whatever reason, it’s normal to feel like you’re not always making a difference.  At these times, it can be helpful to:

  • Talk to work community and colleagues
  • Re-read positive feedback about your work
  • Remind yourself of your long-term mission and goals.

Working for a NFP can be absolutely incredible. But, like any workplace, not-for-profits also have their challenges. Is there something about working at a NFP you’d like to know more about? Email us and let us know.

Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

One Response to “Five things you should know before working at a not for profit”

  1. Comment made by fiveash on May 8th 2019 at 6:56 am:

    What a great article. It’s good to have honest advice. NFP sounds very much like the Co-op I currently work for. Although it does have shareholders they are also the customer and owners, and strictly speaking is NFP. We have nation wide retail outlets also. You describe my work environment pretty much as it is now. Thank you for your insight as I am looking to work for an organization that is about making a difference and not about shareholders dividends!

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