Lessons from the Nonprofit Sector

I thought this was a particularly cogent article posted on Idealist.org, which is a site that is not easy for me to compliment given that out of seemingly hundreds of applications, I can recall landing only a handful of jobs I originally saw posted there (and only one was full time).

Nonetheless, I have worked enough in the nonprofit sector to consider myself someone with an opinion worth hearing. Here are a few takeaways from six years of service to the cause:

  1. Do not attempt a career in the nonprofit sector if you are not passionate about the work: The pay and benefits are typically insufficient to serve as adequate incentives to compensate for what will likely be long hours and numerous tasks and responsibilities.
  2. Do not expect stability or security. Even outside the nonprofit sector, today’s economy isn’t like the 1950s when someone without a college degree could work at the same firm for 30 years and retire with a pension. A willingness to suffer through salary cuts, staff changes, setbacks, stretches of unemployment, and chronic uncertainty is essential for survival.
  3. Do develop a wide variety of skills and competencies. It is common to be understaffed in the nonprofit sector; therefore, managers seek to hire jacks-of-all-trades to compensate. Don’t think that just because your job description is limited to publicity and marketing that you won’t be asked to do tech support, for example.
  4. Do be creative, innovative, and bold. While it’s true that many nonprofits, particularly the larger ones, resemble corporations, there are many that reject the 9-to-5, insipid, Office Space-like paradigm that so many of us despise. The nonprofit sector is reliably flexible compared to other sectors.


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