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The 5 myths of nonprofit jobs

Non profit jobs are both challenging and rewarding. If you’re like us, you may have some preconceived notions about what it’s like to work in the non profit sector. We spoke with non profit insiders to help set the record straight as we demystify 5 common myths.

1. You only work with social workers and tree huggers

Non profits are dynamic places to work because they are made up of individuals with different backgrounds and skill sets. From Masters degrees to PHDs, expect a wide range of experiences and skills. And it’s not just diversity among individuals, it’s also between sectors (non profit, for profit, and government). Cross sector collaboration and partnerships are more common than 5-10 years ago, so non profit jobs require individuals with a deep understanding of the landscape. “We’re not all tree-huggers! I didn’t realize, until I came to WWF Canada , how important businesses are to making meaningful change and how beneficial corporate partnerships are. There is a lot more collaboration than I thought there was and we truly can’t achieve our goals without businesses at the table.”- Adrienne Lo, Head of Living Planet @Work at WWF Canada

2. There are no corporate politics in non profit jobs

While it’s true that everyone, or most people at least, working in a non-profit, believe in and are actively working towards a common good, but it doesn’t mean that staff meetings involve holding hands, singing Kumbayah around a camp fire. The realities of working in non profit jobs are not that dissimilar from those of working in a for profit job, that unfortunately means office politics are as common within non profit organizations as they are with traditional companies. For many of the same reason why office politics exists in the for profit sector, self-interest, ego, turf wars, etc., are the same root causes of office politics at non-profits. While believing in the non profits’ mission can make it easy to turn a blind eye to some of the uncomfortable aspects of office life, it shouldn’t have to be that way. If you are new to a non profit organization and notice office politics our best advice is to avoid being drawn into the fray and instead lead by example. Rise above the drama, and get your colleagues back focused on what really matters, the cause!

3. You won’t get paid 

We know that non profit jobs can’t compete with corporate salaries, but you can still earn a paycheque. So, if you’re coming from the for-profit sector, be prepared for a salary cut. A recent Professionals for Non-Profit New York City Salary Survey,  looked at non-profits with operating budgets ranging from $3 million to over $50 million and found salary ranges for non profit jobs:

CEO: $150K to $310K
CFO: $90k to $240K
VP of Human Resources: $100K to $230K
Director of Development: $80K to $180K
VP Marketing/Communications: $80K to $160K
Accountant: $60K to $90K
Social Media Professional: $50K to $70K
Development Associate: $50K to $70K

4. It’s easier to have a non profit job than a corporate job

Non profit jobs may pay less, but that does not mean they are any less demanding- in fact, they may be more! The hours are not always nine to five and with limited resources, there’s usually a never ending to-do list. Kendra Kerr, who transitioned from a non profit to the MLSE Foundations says “most people think that moving to the NGO sector means that you will have less stress, but that just is not the case.”

5. There’s no point in having an MBA or business background for non profit jobs

Just because it’s called the “nonprofit” sector doesn’t mean that non profits are not interested in making money. In fact, many non profits operate like businesses, and the large organizations have similar departments and processes (they just might be called something different). Non profits are in need of top talent with business backgrounds to help with positions in finance, marketing, sales (a.k.a fundraising/development/major gifts), strategy, IT and HR.  One of the things that surprised Antonia Kalmacoff, Manager of Special Events at the Covenant House was “the amount of MBA-learned skills that I use on a daily basis. From strategic planning to game theory to statistics and research. I love that I get to apply what I learned from my MBA in my job working with corporate partners, foundations and major gifts.”

Are there any other misconceptions and myths about non profit jobs that you’ve come across? Let us know in the comments below, on twitter or facebook.



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  1. Peter Crosby
    September 19, 2014 at 11:22 pm — Reply

    I worked in children’s mental health and family service agencies for more than 35 years starting as a frontline social worker and ending as a director of professional services. In the 1970’s there was self indulgent waste and inefficiencies but by the time I retired, 2 years ago, few private sector companies could do as much for as little. Certainly not ones as committed to paying fair wages as the ones I worked for. We were clear about our mission and worked hard to achieve it. Increasing wealth inequity and stingier government funding combined to generate the need to do more for less. Agencies I worked for were entrepreneurial but in core fee charging programs struggled with increasingly poor clients. Middle and low income people do the most charitable giving and it’s been harder for them to do that and competition for charitable dollars is cut throat. It’s tough in the nonprofit sector.

  2. January 11, 2015 at 5:40 am — Reply

    In the top ten of the favourite articles, thanks!

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