Six Reasons to Work for a Non-Profit Organization

This is a guest article by Flexo from Consumerism Commentary. Flexo is currently on a ten-day, ten-venue tour.

“It ain’t the money.”

I started my career out of college working for a non-profit organization involved with the arts. Yes, after graduation, I took myself and my thousands of dollars of student loan debt and walked away, at least temporarily, from the career my education and certification would have otherwise directed me: teaching. I wasn’t exactly clued into personal finance at the time, so I made some mistakes with my money and my life decisions.

Although I ended up leaving my non-profit aspirations behind after years of mismanaging my finances, I would be in a better position to return now. I’m a fan of the benefits that non-profits provide for communities and for their employees, and working for a non-profit can be a great starting point for any career — or life.

The one drawback is, of course, they don’t typically pay well. But even that can be interpreted as an advantage.

1. Non-profits force you to focus on your personal finances. I failed at this until reality kicked in, but a job at the lowest end of the salary scale should make you consciously consider your money situation. This is an opportunity to be forced into several good habits that, while even if abandoned when cash flow improves in the future, will continue to underlie your philosophy and relationship with money.

Low income will force you to learn budgeting techniques as well as to track your expenses. You will discover how to live on less money than your friends.

2. You will learn the meaning of hard work. While there are some exceptions, most non-profit organizations do not have the resources to comfortable achieve their missions. A lack of resources like capital and staff requires everyone to pitch in more. In my experience with the non-profit where I worked, even with hundreds of un-paid volunteers, the organization’s staff of ten worked 80 to 100 hours a week during some parts of the year.

3. You will broaden your skills with multiple responsibilities. In addition to long hours, you may find that your responsibilities include more than just one function. In my ten-person office, we each had multiple responsibilities simply because there weren’t enough people for everyone to be a “specialist.”

For example, my primary function was to run an educational program for 30,000 high school students across hundreds of high schools, but I also maintained the organization’s frequently-updated website, manned the customer service telephone line for the teachers we supported, provided hardware and software technical support to the other staff, functioned as a network administrator, planned and managed events, shuttled volunteers from airports to event sites, and designed our operations-related databases.

4. Meet talented and passionate people. While working for a non-profit, you will have the opportunity to surround yourself with some of the most amazing people you will ever know. One way of improving yourself is to seek the company of people who are the best in the world. Get to know the people who sit on the organization’s Board of Directors because they share the same goals and often bridge the gap to the for-profit world.

5. Doing what you love will keep you motivated. If you love your job, it won’t feel like work. That will be a great benefit when you will be spending most of your waking life for the benefit of the non-profit. If you align your occupation with something you are passionate about, your performance on the job will be better than if you were to work in a corporation without passion.

6. You can change the world. For a corporation, particularly a public company beholden to shareholders, your job always boils down to increasing the company’s bottom line. There is little personal reward in that goal, so corporations make up for this by offering salaries, bonuses, stock options, and a slate of other benefits. In a non-profit organization, you are also “paid” by the satisfaction of doing something good for the world’s benefit, whether it is saving lives, reducing poverty, making education affordable, bringing enrichment opportunities to children, or some other worthy cause.

Working for a non-profit organization isn’t for everyone, but it also isn’t only for the rich who have little need to build wealth for their family. You can have a comfortable and rewarding life, and you can build wealth, by working for a non-profit.

35 Responses to Six Reasons to Work for a Non-Profit Organization
  1. Priya Kapoor
    January 27, 2010 | 7:49 am

    Are there any non-profits that you would recommend people to try out? :)

  2. SimplyForties
    January 27, 2010 | 8:00 am

    A non-profit for whom I recently started volunteering offered me a full-time job. The job will not exist for another 6-12 months but they have asked me to consider taking it. I’m pondering it. Living in North Carolina appeals to me, and I believe in what these people are doing. The timeline also works for me. In my “real” life I work as a virtual paralegal and, I could keep my paralegal clients and use that money to supplement the less-than-ideal salary that these people would be able to pay Unfortunately, that would mean that I’d be working a full-time job for the non-profit and then still have to work evenings and weekends to pay the bills. I’d have to really love the non-profit to be willing to do that. In my new life I’ve learned that I really value my free time and if I make this move I’ll have a lot less of it. It’s a tough decision and I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

    I applaud everyone who works for a non-profit but I also understand why it’s not for everyone. No matter how dedicated, or financially careful, there is such a thing as not enough.

  3. Flexo
    January 27, 2010 | 8:59 am

    Priya: You can probably try out some non-profits by volunteering, and I’m sure there’s something in New York that matches your interests. I’m a fan of the The New York Philharmonic. I know they need volunteers at least in the summer for their free Concerts in the Parks.

    SimplyForties: That’s a tough decision. That’s the kind of sacrifice that people have to decide whether they can make. Let us know what you decide!

  4. Kim: Blogging for Change
    January 27, 2010 | 11:40 am

    I agree with everything you’ve said. I have worked for a nonprofit for 14 years (and counting!) Could I have made more money somewhere else? Probably. But I had to consider how much that money would be worth to me. Having a job that I love and helping people at the same time is priceless.

    As for point #1, my nonprofit happens to be focused on personal finance, so I’ve had no choice but to learn budgeting techniques!

  5. Barb
    January 27, 2010 | 11:55 am

    Two of my three jobs have been at non-profits and maybe it’s because I work in the DC area, home to a LOT of associations, I’ve found the pay to be competitive. Size among non-profits also varies wildly (I’ve worked for two decent-sized nonprofits [around 100 employees each]), but working at one helped me to learn ALL aspects of my profession (publishing)–something I wouldn’t have gotten at a for-profit publisher.

  6. Financial Samurai
    January 27, 2010 | 10:47 pm

    I really like the idea and the ideals of a non profit organization. Maybe I’ll join one day after I retire. Thanks for sharing your thought Flexo!

  7. SAM
    February 2, 2010 | 11:33 am

    You forgot an important one!

    Non-profits often make up for what they lack in salary with great benefits – flexible work schedules, good health insurance or retirement plans, lots of vacation, etc…

  8. Flexo
    February 13, 2010 | 6:37 am

    Hi SAM,

    Unfortunately, I’ve often found the opposite — the benefits, like the salary, are often lacking. When I worked for a non-profit, our hours were often 7 am to 7 pm plus weekends. We had no retirement plan. I think I was able to take one week of vacation a year. And I expect that experience is more typical of the smaller non-profits.

  9. Financial Samurai
    February 13, 2010 | 8:23 am

    Yikes, that’s a shame Flexo. I may have to try and help in a different way later in my career life then.

  10. Dung
    April 22, 2011 | 9:22 am

    I admire those who work in non governmental organizations and would like to work like them.

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    January 20, 2012 | 7:12 pm

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  12. marayh
    May 27, 2012 | 12:07 pm

    Hi! (to whoever is doing this)Just a coulpe of points:e2€œBetter than any non-profit handoutse2€9d (could have stayed a non-profit and have done the same things much better by using the profits to advance the mission instead of pocketing them).e2€œextremely modest capitalisme2€9d (wouldne2€™t be so sure about thate2€a6 e2€“ how do we know much they profit if they refuse to disclose their profits? e2€“ and the long term business model that they claim not to havee2€a6 appears to be *quite* capitalistice2€a6).Good luck with everything and take care!Delia

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