Jobs that Serve: What You Need to Know About Working for a Nonprofit

jobs that serve

You want to make a difference and impact society by finding a job that serves. Whether youd like to improve your local parks, help provide resources for the under-privileged, or just simply work in a meaningful position, a nonprofit organization can offer you the rewarding profession you’re seeking.

If youre on the hunt for jobs that serve others, then its time to take closer look at what this means for your career. There’s no doubt the work is fulfilling, but there’s a lot more to it that you should know before signing up. We did some digging and talked to seasoned professionals to get the scoop on working for a nonprofit.

Essentials of a nonprofit organization

Just because it’s a nonprofit, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make money. Read on to learn about the two main qualifications of a non-profit.

It’s (usually) charitable

A nonprofit is typically characterized by being charitable. A true nonprofit should seek to serve the public in some way. The charitable purpose could be religious, educational, scientific, literary or another category listed by the International Revenue Service (IRS.) This essentially means that a significant portion of their income is going to a cause, demographic or initiative.

It’s tax exempt

According to the IRS, the company must be “organized and operated exclusively for exempt purpose” and must not use any of its earnings for shareholders or private interests. Additionally, it is not allowed to attempt to influence legislation as a significant part of its purpose. Essentially, in order to be exempt, the organization must meet the IRSs eligibility requirements and its main purpose cannot be to earn a profit, but to rather serve the public good.

What is it really like working for a nonprofit?

Now that you know how to define a nonprofit, you’re ready for the specifics. We spoke with professionals in the nonprofit sector to identify some of the ups and downs, benefits and challenges of their work environment.

The benefits

“It's a work environment of dreamers and doers; of collaboration and commiseration; of sitting at a table together to solve the world's problems, and then pounding the pavement to make it happen,” says Melissa James, marketing director for The Curtis Group. Working alongside other passionate professionals can be extremely inspiring.

"It's a work environment of dreamers & doers."

Not everyone has the opportunity to be surrounded by colleagues who share your motivation for making a difference. This mutual mission creates a satisfying, comfortable and exciting work environment, according to Elana Winchester, communications and marketing coordinator at Areyvut.

This altruistic environment also influences the kind of expectations employees face. “There isn't a culture of mandatory overtime like there is at many private companies,” says Andrew Aslesen, source water specialist with WRWA. He appreciates the fact that he’s never expected to put in overtime, which would hinder his family life.

The challenges

Every industry, career and position has its ups and downs. The nonprofit world comes with its own set of unique challenges, especially when it comes to money.

“We are constantly limited by budget restrictions and lack of resources,” Winchester explains. “But that doesn't deter us! One of the amazing things about working at a non-profit is that the office is filled with passion.”

Budget restrictions make efficiency essential. “Nonprofits are more often than not understaffed and under-resourced, which means every hour of every day is important to getting something done,” says Brian Scios, who’s worked for a variety of nonprofits. “A department that has five people in the corporate world will have one in a nonprofit.” This means you may be required to perform a variety of tasks on any given day.

"Working for a nonprofit means making a difference & creating a better world."

Nonprofits are also expected to explain and account for every dollar they spend, which can sway decisions. For instance, James recalls having to print brochures on matte paper instead of glossy. Though they cost the same, donors and board members perceived glossy paper as a waste of money. This kind of rigorous accounting can be a real challenge, but she sees it as an opportunity.

“Because you are held more accountable for every dime, you learn to be more creative and really stop and think before spending your organization's money,” James says.

Another drawback of working for a nonprofit can be the earning potential. The tight budgets mentioned above often result in smaller salaries for employees as well. But for many nonprofit employees, it’s not all about the money. “Although your salary doesn't always match that of a for-profit, the family environment is worth it,” says Doreen Graves, Chief of staff, Bountiful Blessings Inc.

“Working for a nonprofit means making a difference and creating a better world,” James says. “I've always found that a more powerful motivator to get up in the morning than just making money.”

What are nonprofit employers seeking?

If the info above has you intrigued about working for a nonprofit, then you’re probably curious to hear what nonprofit employers are looking for in a new hire. Read on to see which skills are in high demand.

A strong sense of purpose

“I find that those who excel at their job in the nonprofit world are those who truly care,” says Winchester. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Afterall, the reason your organization exists is because people rallied around a cause, idea or mission.

If you’re a devoted person who feels strongly about the goals of a particular organization, you’d probably be a great fit to join them. “Employers in the nonprofit sector tend to seek out passionate people. They want to know you believe in their cause and are willing to work hard,” James adds.

Experience & skill

The minimal budget described earlier means every employee needs to carry their weight. Aslesen says nonprofit employers definitely prioritize experienced candidates who are skilled in the position for which they are hiring. Passion will only get you so far; at the end of the day, they still need someone who can successful carry out the position.

The ability to balance

“You have to think like a business but act like a charity,” James says. “That is a powerful skill to have and hone.”  She explains that having the ability to think critically and creatively while juggling competing priorities will help someone truly excel in any nonprofit position.

Is this your calling?

These insights should have you one step closer to deciding if working at a nonprofit is the right choice for you. But this breakdown of jobs that serve only scratches the surface of the nonprofit sector.

Need more proof that this is the path for you? Check out this article: Why You Should Work for a Nonprofit.


About the author

Megan Ruesink

Megan is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She hopes to engage and intrigue current and potential students.


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