There are over 1.5 million non-profits in the U.S. In 2010, it’s estimated that those organizations accounted for 9.2% of all wages paid in the U.S.
These are no small numbers. Non-profits contribute a significant amount to the economy and employ thousands of people.
If you’re looking for a new job opportunity or are about to graduate, consider looking in the non-profit sector for a job. The sector is full of hard-working individuals who are all striving toward the same goal: to make the society and the world better.
There are some general assumptions and misconceptions about working for a non-profit that you should know about.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you can expect when working for a non-profit.
What’s a Non-Profit?
A non-profit is a tax-exempt organization whose revenue is dedicated to the cause the non-profit is working to improve. Non-profits are usually run like businesses, but the profits do not go to an owner or investors.
Non-profits are founded to work towards a particular goal to improve society. These causes might be educational, environmental, scientific, charitable, religious or other.
The size of a non-profit depends largely on how much funding and donations the organization can get.
What Pay and Position Can I Expect at a Non-Profit?
While the name implies otherwise, non-profit employees do earn salaries. The only exception is when individuals donate their time to the organization (ex. volunteering at an animal shelter).
Non-profit work can get a bad reputation when it comes to salaries. No, you won’t make as much as an investment banker or lawyer, but you can still earn a competitive salary.
Again, the salaries offered at a non-profit will depend largely on the amount of funding the organization has received. If a non-profit can’t offer salaries competitive with the private sector, they try to make up for it with other benefits like more vacation or great healthcare coverage.
Non-profits need to hire for all types of positions. Usually, they need an internal IT team, lobbyists, administrators, accountants, research analysts, marketing/communications, etc.
These job descriptions are fairly similar to those same positions in the private sector.
Similarly to the private sector, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to hone your skills or learn something new in a non-profit.
How Rigid Are the Roles at Non-Profits?
Roles at non-profit need to be fluid for the most part. A non-profit might hire you to do one thing, but then their needs change four months later.
The need for different tasks frequently changes at non-profits either because different phases of a project require different skills or they’re short-staffed.
Working at a non-profit provides you with the chance to try out several different things, a chance you might not get at a large company. If you come in as a PR specialist, you might get to try your hand at social media, digital marketing, and even graphic design.
Keep in mind, this is more likely to occur at small non-profits where employees are already managing different tasks that don’t fall into their job description. In larger, well-established non-profits, you can likely expect your role to stay close to what it was when you were hired.
Working at a non-profit is a great challenge for someone who wants to be exposed to many different skills and doesn’t mind the fluidity of the role. If you’re the kind of person who only wants to do the tasks that are laid out in your job description, you likely won’t like working for a non-profit.
What Type of Person Should Work at a Non-Profit?
You need to tough and incredibly hard-working to thrive at a non-profit. You also need to be smart and be able to say “no.” And, to some extent, you need to be a bit hard-hearted.
In some ways, it’s easier to explain the characteristics that will make working at a non-profit harder and not enjoyable.
You can’t be the kind of person who gets too attached to something. Whether it’s a person you’re helping or something you’re lobbying for, you will face many disappointments. Getting too attached and seeing those efforts fall through can be too discouraging for some individuals.
You also shouldn’t be the kind of person who feels like they can’t say no. If your organization works with people, there sadly will be individuals who try to exploit your organization’s benefits. You need to be able to say no to those people even if it seems like they’re in need.
Not every non-profit will face these hardships. There are plenty of organizations and positions where you won’t get so attached to the cause.
And while these difficulties might seem too discouraging, they shouldn’t deter you from trying to help better society.
What Else Should I Know?
Something else to consider is the role might not be permanent.
Typically, non-profits have a program year where they have to meet certain benchmarks to receive grant money. If the non-profit can’t meet those goals, it might lose its funding, and you might lose your job.
Grant money isn’t the only way non-profits earn money. Actually, in the U.S. grant money only makes up about 9.2% of non-profit revenue. Private sector donations make up the highest amount of non-profit revenue at 50%.
However, if you work for a large, established non-profit, you’ll likely never lose your job for lack of funding.
Not all non-profits do all their marketing and revenue-generating activities themselves. There are some companies like the Borns Group which help non-profits create mailing campaigns to generate more donation dollars.
Final Thoughts on Working for a Non-Profit
When you’re considering working for a non-profit, you should take the same steps as you would for working at another company. Do tons of research online, ask friends and family what they know about the non-profit, and even ask one or two employees of the non-profit will get coffee with you to discuss their work.
Like any job, you want to feel good about what you’re doing in your day-to-day tasks as well as working towards a common organizational goal. Many people find working for a non-profit fulfills their desire to do good in the world.
Finding self-contentment in a job is incredibly important, especially because we spend so much of our time at work. For more tips on achieving self-contentment in your job, non-profit or private sector, click here.