Nonprofit Pluses and Minuses

by | March 31, 2009

The good...

Many of the positive aspects of working in a nonprofit/philanthropy career apply to many different organisations.

  • The work of a nonprofit staff member goes beyond executing a role in the general pursuit of making as much money as possible. Your job can positively impact the lives of sometimes thousands of people, can change or improve some negative aspect of our society for future generations, can create new, affordable homes for disadvantaged families, or can teach a mentally disabled person a trade and help him/her achieve financial independence. Nothing can measure up to the feeling at the end of the day when you realise that every call you made, letter you wrote, bill you reconciled, staff meeting you sat through, paper you filed or decision you made could benefit someone who needs your organisation's help.
  • Nonprofits are, on the whole, more family-friendly than the corporate world. Many are more laid-back, offer better vacation and work hours, and have a more liberal approach to lifestyle choices. However, this isn't a universal trait, so make sure to research each organisation before making any assumptions.
  • Because there are rarely enough people to do the work, working in a nonprofit can give you the opportunity to do a variety of tasks outside of your job description -- you can therefore gain great experience through a broad range of responsibilities.

...and the bad

Downers in nonprofit careers tend to depend on the organisation. However, there are certain unattractive qualities that many share.

  • Staff members often do the equivalent of more than one person's job for often lower salaries than the corporate world offers.
  • There are few, if any, company perks of the sort offered by employers in much of the corporate world, such as gym memberships, entertainment tickets, etc.
  • Success is often difficult to determine. For example, let's say a local advocacy organisation implements a community education campaign urging parents to read more to their children. Is it possible to achieve a truly accurate determination of the campaign's success, and to what degree parental behaviour changed? Quite possibly, there won't be enough funding to design a community survey, or, conduct adequate focus groups to find out the answers.
  • Success is often tied to bringing in money/fundraising. While you may reap greater satisfaction from working at an organisation whose overriding goal is not to make money, don't think that you're escaping the importance of money altogether.
  • Working at certain nonprofits can mean continually seeing unhappy, impoverished people -- or worse. For example, employees at women's domestic abuse shelters see a steady daily stream of battered women and their children. The shelter's staff often faces heavy depression and a high rate of burnout.
  • High academic standards -- many nonprofits require a master's degree, and some require PhDs for senior positions. Many also require hands-on experience with target beneficiaries before being taken seriously.

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