Having spent the past 20 years as a non-profit executive, I can vouch for how great these jobs are….for some people! I’ve noticed that in the last 5 years the number of people looking to move from the private sector has increased exponentially. With 45% of working adults between the ages of 44 and 70 planning to pursue a second career, the non-profit sector is bracing for an explosion of interest.
Is an NPO the right fit for you? Many of the people that come to talk to me about career change site an interest in “giving back” as their first reason for going non-profit. Hard on their heels are those who express a desire for a more “self-directed” career. Both of these are to be had with jobs in charity, but with some caveats.
“Giving Back.” Almost all NPO jobs allow you to give back to your community and make a difference. However, the program jobs tend to be the “hands on” experiences that many seem to want, and they also tend to be fairly low paid. Being the lead executive of an NPO is much like being the CEO of a business. There are strategic plans to be developed, staff to manage, landlords and vendors to be negotiated with, and budgets to keep.
There are jobs in the sector for accountants, business development specialists, fundraisers, and administrative personnel. In each of the jobs, you truly are giving back, but your job isn’t awfully different on a day-to-day basis. Working for a mission-driven organization is terrific, but not without the tasks and routines of any other job. Take a clear eyed look at the daily requirements of the job.
“Self-Directed.” The vast majority of my non-profit career certainly counts as a self-directed one, but I tend to be a self-starter and self-directed person. When I moved into the non-profit sector, I took a risk (and an enormous pay cut) and signed on as the first and only employee of a small, struggling organization. I was an Executive Director who vacuumed and cleaned bathrooms, among my other responsibilities. Over the course of 15 years, I built that organization 30-fold in revenue and left it a multi-state operation completely staffed. I loved the building, but once we hit a certain size, the job became entrenched in the very bureaucracy I had created. Ooops.
If you are looking for a challenge and a chance to stretch your wings, look to a small struggling organization and offer your expertise. Just be prepared to work long hours for short pay, and be prepared to wear every hat you can imagine.
Should you choose to work for an organization that is established (or a chapter of a national organization), be aware that there will be rules, lines of authority, and tight job descriptions.
A job at a not-for-profit is a beautiful thing, but not all are created equal. Do you homework. Go visit a local organization and ask to shadow several jobs for a day or two.
Non-Profit job hunting strategies
Should you start your own non-profit organization?