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Ring in the New Year at a Nonprofit

Ring in the New Year at a Nonprofit

by Barbara Reinhold,
Monster Career Coach

Something about the New Year urges many people to reassess their priorities and goals. During this time of reflection, you may decide you want to pursue a career that can make a real impact within your community or contributes to a higher cause. Or, you may have been hit by the downturn in the economy and decided to focus your job search on the nonprofit sector.

Regardless of the reason, understand there are many pros and cons to consider before deciding if this path is right for you.

First, you need to understand that nonprofits differ greatly from public corporations, and not all nonprofits are created equal. Each one is very different from the other, depending on culture, mission, financial stability, quality of leadership and degree of support.

A nonprofit that is great for one person may not be for another, and a nonprofit that’s terrific in a fully funded year may be a nightmare when funds dry up. Here are a few things you should know before deciding whether to go the nonprofit route.

What’s Great About Nonprofits:

Gentle, People-Centered Environments
Some nonprofits are burnout city, but by and large, nonprofits are a little slower paced and more likely to understand about work-life-balance needs. Dress codes are generally more lax, and people seem to feel they can be themselves.

Opportunities to Link Work to Passions and Values

Art, theater, music, sailing, women’s health, children’s issues, etc., don’t have to remain hobbies if you choose to work in one of the more than 32,000 associations organized around values or causes like these. For many people, the opportunity to combine what they love and how they earn a living is worth the pay differential.

More Forgiveness in Hiring

If you have some gaps in your resume (and who doesn’t), you might find a more sympathetic ear at a nonprofit, particularly if you can convince the people that the things they love are really important to you too. Unlike the private sector, there are opportunities to land entry-level positions by relying on transferable skills.

Openings for Leadership

If working toward a leadership position is important to you, a nonprofit environment might be more supportive of this goal. There are lots of smart, talented people on both sides of the profit line, but the race to the top seems a little more possible outside for-profit businesses, particularly large ones.

What’s Not So Great:

Pay Differential

Nonprofits typically pay at least 20 percent less than comparable jobs in the for-profit world, and many of the most talented nonprofit leaders aren’t breaking six figures. You should expect to be paid adequately, but not handsomely.

Funding Uncertainties

In nonprofits, money is always a problem, because it depends on the whims of lawmakers or private donors. But in terms of uncertainties, it’s not all that different from for-profit business these days.

Excessive Politics

In the absence of a bottom line, the only recourse for blame or praise is politics -- a potent force in nonprofits. The fact that nonprofits advertise themselves as values-oriented places sometimes makes this intolerable, but it is an ironic and unfortunate fact of life in many organizations.

Difficulty Moving into for-Profit Sector

Some people experience nonprofits as career ghettos, because large for-profit businesses often seem biased against the nonprofit arena as a supplier of talent. For a 55-year-old with a track record, this is not necessarily a problem, but younger workers wanting to make good money might think twice about removing themselves from the fast track so early in their careers.

So what’s the verdict? There’s only one answer: It depends! Where you are in your life right now? What’s happening at the nonprofit that speaks to you?  If you’re looking for a transition or to give your soul a break, nonprofits are great to explore. And after all, in this economic environment, nothing is forever.


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