Wednesday 16 July 2014

So, You Want To Work For A Non-Profit

I work for a non-profit organization (NPO) and I love it- most of the time. I actually got my start in the corporate world, and while I was making a ton more money, I wasn't feeling rewarded in my work or that I was making a difference or even doing something with my life. So, I made the switch to a NPO.

Since high school, I knew I wanted to work for a NPO and planned my schooling accordingly. I had a ton of volunteer experience, which is what really influenced me to work for a NPO. Through my volunteer work, I was introduced to the thankless grunt work, long hours, fun events and the majority of things associated with this sector...or at least the portion that had to do with fundraising. 

I love my job, the organization I work for, the people I work with, the clients we serve...but it's tough. 

I hear from so many people who say they want to work in the non-profit sector. They have good intentions, wanting to help people and make a difference in the lives of others. A lot of people don't realize how hard it actually is. The end result- seeing how the funds I raise help the people we serve and hearing our clients talk about the difference we made in their lives- is honestly the most rewarding thing for me.

People ask me all the time what it's like to work for a NPO. I'm honest with them and tell them it's not as glamorous and fun as it looks, that's it's tough but rewarding and that you get to do a lot of fun things- like work on tv commercials, insert creativity into events, visit a lot of unique locations, etc. But you have to be really dedicated to your organization and really love what you do.

Here are 6 things I've never told anyone.

1. You don't get paid well. People know this, but they don't know the extreme of this. My current salary, after 5 years in the industry is still less than my starting, just out of school corporate salary. I'm getting paid roughly $20,000-$30,000 less than what I should be.
2. Everything is for the good of the organization. I had a vendor, someone we paid to come in and do work for us, send me an unsolicited email criticizing me, my work, my planning skills and he cc'd everyone in my department, my office (we have multiple locations), my boss, our admin assistant and two people from his company. I did not reply or acknowledge his email. My boss ended up talking to his company and apologizing, saying I was at fault for the email their employee sent. I was told I was not a good representation of our NPO. My boss had no problem throwing me and my reputation under the bus to make the organization look good. 

What promoted the email? He was supposed to be done working on site at 1pm, it was after 4pm (when our office closes), and I asked him how long he'd be onsite so I could find someone who could stay.

3. You work long hours. I worked 13 hours yesterday, will be paid for 7 and I was expected in the office for 8:30 this morning. That was 13 in office hours and does not include any work I did when I got home. I also didn't take a break for lunch or dinner.
4. Volunteers. This is actually a good and bad thing. Some volunteers are amazing. Incredibly dedicated, will do anything to help out, super nice and friendly. I have volunteers that I can't spend enough time with. They are truly, great and amazing people who have added so much to my life. Unfortunately, not all volunteers are like this. 
You work with volunteers on specific projects and they don't realize-and in most cases don't care- that not all of your time can be dedicated to that one project. If you assign something to them, and they don't do it, it's your problem, not theirs. They are unreliable. Just yesterday, I got several nasty emails from a volunteer and was yelled at by another. Guess what? I will be to blame- see point number 2. 

5. The workload is a bit much. You are expected to do work assigned to you/fits your job description, which is consistent with all jobs. NPO's don't have a lot of money and are frequently short staffed. In less than a year, my department went from 5 people to just me...which means I am doing the work of 5 people (being paid a salary for one position, which is underpaid to begin with). This work has to get done and there is no one else to do. So it automatically gets assigned to you.
6. Board Members. This goes hand in hand with number 4, as they are volunteers. Board members are the most dedicated of volunteers and do A LOT of work. I am incredible lucky to work with a really great board, which is not always the case. Board members are, at the end of the day, your boss. But they are not involved with the day to day office operations, so they really have no idea what you do or how hard you work. They see you brought in a $5,000 donation and ask why you couldn't make it $10,000. What they don't know is you had to go through 10 prospects before meeting with the donor (hearing 10 'no' to get to that one 'yes'), you put in 10-15 hours of work on that individual donor and that their original donation was going to be $1,000. 

On top of that, a number of volunteers are family members or friends of the board. If you make a volunteer mad- which is usually disagreeing with them (ex you want to promote an event to sell tickets, they don't want you to promote the event...just magically sell tickets), they have no problem going home and telling their family/friend, who is a board member, about you. Of course, the volunteer leaves out the details about themselves- like them yelling at you or the inappropriate email they sent you. Board member calls your boss the next day and you get blamed...see number 2.

Working in non-profit is not all fun and games. You really have to be dedicated to your organization and really believe in the work they do. You have to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices. You will be overworked, underpaid, stressed out, frustrated and get beaten up mentally and emotionally. It comes with the job. 

There are a lot of good things too about working for a NPO- a post for another time- it's just not as happy-warm-and-fuzzy-feel-good job that most people think it is.

1 comment:

  1. I completely understand where you're coming from! I've worked (for free) for various NPOs for years, and would like to get a paid job in the field, but I know how difficult it is! Bearing the brunt of the work, no recognition, touchy volunteers and superiors... but I hope it continues to be worth it in the end!