Find Your Grind in the Nonprofit World


More than any other generation, today’s young workers want jobs that mean something. If you want a job furthering a cause you care about and want to learn more, read on!

Why nonprofit work?

For most of my career, I’ve worked at for-profit companies. These jobs often carried all the benefits you might expect: large teams with specialized roles, tons of room for growth (both in responsibility/title and salary), job security, and various perks (office workers love free lunch). It was pretty cool sometimes. I once got free tickets to a Jay-Z concert as a reward for doing well on a project. And of course, corporations can afford the best coffee, not to mention bonuses.

Even so, I became jaded; I felt little to no personal investment in my work. There’s nothing wrong with climbing the corporate ladder, as long as it makes you happy, but my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted something that would make me feel like I was making the world better, even a little bit.

I have been working for nonprofits for about four years now and have no plans to leave. Even so, there were a few things I wish I’d known when I was first starting out.

You’ll wear a lot of hats.

At a corporation, you’ll likely be hired for a specific job. But at most nonprofits, save for the really big ones, you’ll do all sorts of things you never anticipated. I like it—I hate being bored, and now I’m never bored—but I realize it’s not for everyone.

My first nonprofit job was as a communications specialist. I did all the things you might expect, but the organization also needed someone to follow up with customers on the phone and gauge their satisfaction. Everyone else was swamped, and I was new, so that’s what I did. I won’t lie: I did not always look forward to that part of my day, but I knew I was learning something that would come in handy.

Now, at my current organization, I’m the director of communications. Since we’re a very small team, I manage all written communications, as well as all graphic design and web development. On top of that, I do event planning, yard work, building maintenance, ordering lunch, you name it. And I love it. (I’m also much better at helping people over the phone!)

It’s rewarding, but rarely glamorous.

A good nonprofit’s goal is to put the bulk of its budget toward its mission. This usually means working in less-than-fancy facilities, making do with older technology, fewer resources, smaller budgets, and of course, humbler employee salaries.

If you dream of working in a sleek, high-rise office where there’s almost unlimited room to grow, nonprofit work may not be for you—and that’s fine! You should absolutely find the job you actually want, not a job you think you ought to want. If your heart bleeds at the thought of neglected animals or children who need medical care, you should give it a shot! The lack of glamor may not even occur to you.

They need you!

Most people gravitate toward well-paying jobs at companies with lots of opportunities, and it makes sense. Even if employees are indifferent about (or sort of dislike) their jobs, it can still help them live the life they want. And standard-of-living is valuable to many people. There’s a reason why people clamor to work for Google, instead of their town’s at-risk youth center.

Unfortunately, this means a shortage of talent in nonprofit hiring pools. But for you, this is good news! It means you have a better chance of getting hired.

Nonprofits pay in other ways.

Because they can’t offer as much as you’d make elsewhere, nonprofits may offer things you can’t get at a corporation, and some of these perks can make a huge difference to employees.

I feel lucky in my current role. I frequently travel to beautiful places to do work I care about with interesting people. I also enjoy a fairly flexible work schedule (I’m more of a 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. type of guy) and a very relaxed dress code. These may not sound like much, but they are deal-breakers for me, and I’ll pick them over a little more money every time.

The biggest benefit to working in nonprofits is often the culture. I can’t speak for all nonprofits, but in my experience, they’ve been less like an office and more like a family. Because everyone (ideally) cares about what they do each day, a bond is created that’s hard to find anywhere else.

Sound like a career for you? 

If it does, you could get involved with a nonprofit today! Volunteering or interning is a great way to build relationships and get noticed, especially if you don’t have that much (or any) experience. If you crush it, even for a few hours a week, it will prove to them that you are a major asset—and they’ll be much more likely to consider hiring you in the future.

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