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What Everybody Should Know About Choosing to Work in Not-for-Profit

Tags:  Career strategies, Looking for work

When deciding on a career, there are really only two choices: for-profit or not-for-profit. And while many people naturally gravitate toward the for-profit sector, overlooking what the world of not-for-profits has to offer can be a big mistake.


Working in non-profit is just like working in any other type of business: you have a boss, a set of goals and responsibilities, there are pressures and challenges. In fact, aside from the fact that non-profits primarily operate from grants and fundraising and, therefore, are not a place for those motivated primarily by money, the work environment is similar to other businesses.

Here's how…

Business as usual. Just like in the for-profit world, non-profits need people who have basic business experience and skills – accounting, marketing, computer, sales, written communication and such. It is not always all about the cause; this is a business you're running.


Keeping donors happy. In for-profit businesses they're called stakeholders. In non-profit businesses they are donors. These are the businesses that contribute large non-profit dollars with the expectation that they will get something in return. It is important to positively promote a donor's image.


Understand your target.  Believe it or not, just like the for-profits, non-profits have a target audience who they are trying to attract. Though they usually call them sponsors, members or contributors, these are the individuals that provide donations or volunteer their time so the organization can continue its good work. You've probably seen their requests in your mailbox.


As for the individuals who work in non-profit, their skill sets bear some resemblance to those in for-profit work; however, there are three important traits that you need to possess to work in a non-for-profit company.


Idealism. If you are looking to get rich, look elsewhere. The best fit is someone with a strong sense of community and a desire to help others.


Initiative. The success of a non-profit is all predicated on communicating the organizational values and purpose. Getting people interested in the cause. This takes someone with drive, motivation, and creativity.


Flexibility. Being adaptable is key. Your work is all about promoting what the organization does, so each day can be unique. Hours can sometimes be unpredictable as there are social events that you may need to attend. In addition, because non-profit businesses usually run lean and mean, jobs are more likely to be multi-dimensional requiring you to wear many different hats.


One of the biggest questions that people ask when considering a job in the non-profit arena is the ability to enter and exit the field. Quite frankly, entering the field is probably a bit easier than leaving it, depending on the type of position you hold.


For instance, accounting is very different in for-profit and non-profit. However, marketing is marketing. The key element that you need to focus on is your transferable skills. Transferable skills are those generic or soft skills – project management, relationship building, written and oral communication – that are related to both sectors.


A final word about salary: moving out of non-profit will probably net you an increase, while moving into non-profit may require a compromise. However, many larger non-profits pay very marketable wages and depending on your motivation, there may be other benefits for you to consider – a positive and supportive work environment, flexible work schedules, and finding a career you can be passionate about.

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