Friday, January 29, 2016

The Truth about Working in Nonprofit

Two years ago this month, I parted ways with my job as a Project Manager with a Fortune 500 company, to embark on a personal journey of finding something that was missing in my life.

After leaving the corporate world, I started working for a nonprofit organization. According to Independent Sector, one in twelve Americans work in the nonprofit sector.

For those who don’t know what I do for a living, I am an Event Planner for PAWS Chicago. More specifically, I plan major fundraising galas to help save the lives of homeless animals. {Check out #9 on my intro post HERE to find out a little more about it.}

Once people find out what I do for a living, the majority tell me that I have an awesome job. Some even say that I have their dream job. And I have to agree with them because… I love my job!

There are some amazing benefits to working for a nonprofit organization. But it’s also more than just feeling good about what you do to try and make the world a better place.

Today, I’m going to share a little insight about working in nonprofit.

If you don’t see something that you really want to know more about, let me know!


1. What “nonprofit” actually means.

The term “nonprofit” refers to the 501(c)(3) tax code in the United States. Nonprofit organizations are considered tax exempt because they do not receive any government or state funding. Revenue is generated by way of grants, donors and fundraising programs. “Charity” is the most common substitute name used amongst the general public for a nonprofit organization.

 2. You may take a pay cut in your salary.

The biggest piece advice I can give someone, if they are looking to start working in the nonprofit sector, is to make sure you are truly okay with not making as much money as you used to.

Most of us who entered the nonprofit world didn’t do so because of the money.

The majority of the revenue that a nonprofit organization generates goes back into programs that serve the organization’s mission. Therefore, when you take a job at a nonprofit organization after working in another industry, it is very likely that you will be taking approximately a 30-60% reduction in your annual salary. On top of that, there are no stock options and usually no year-end bonuses.

But we knew that is what we were getting into, when we decided to dedicate our lives to making the world a better place. It’s painful to hear. Trust me – I know! I took a 56% pay cut from my previous salary. Yes, 56%. I made this sacrifice, just like all of my colleagues, to be able to do something that I love and care about every day.  It was still worth it!
3. It’s never boring.

I once heard someone describe it as such: “Each day in nonprofit work is like a snowflake.

Meaning that, just like all snowflakes are different, each day of work can be vastly different. I hate that I can’t remember who I heard it from, but that statement is very true. You can go into each day with a general plan of how your day is going to go, but be ready for change.

For instance, one day you could be focused on planning a special event, talking with clients, having a committee meeting, cleaning out storage, doing a venue walk-through, mentoring a new intern or staff member, pitching a new idea to the founder of the organization, taking care of an office foster puppy, and sometimes all of the above will occur together. Not every day is like this, but it does happen at least once or twice a week in my world.

4. Our schedules are often flexible.

Since we often have to work nights, weekends, and extra hours, we tend to have a lot of leeway with our daily schedules. If we work late one night, we can come in a bit later the next morning or leave a bit earlier one day. If you have a long commute {like I do}, you can set different business hours so you hit less traffic. If you want to have a longer lunch date with colleagues or a friend, feel free to. It’s great that we can be flexible!

5. Paid time off is a bit different.

You do get paid sick/personal days, vacations days, and most major holidays just like other companies. Unfortunately, you usually get less vacation time than most companies, and usually don’t get “extra days” at some holidays {like Thanksgiving or Christmas}.

On the up-side, we usually get what we call “comp” days!

Nonprofit teams band together to help each other out at fundraising events, adoption events, weekend events, etc. Since that often requires us to work {very} long days and some weekends, we get to take a paid “comp” day to make up the extra time we put in. With these extra “comp” days, I usually end up having at least another week of paid time off and sometimes more!

6. There are still office politics.        

I won’t go into this one too much. Know that just because we work in nonprofit, doesn’t mean there aren’t differences in opinion, some egos, and office politics to work around. Just like every other job out there.

7. You get to meet and work with amazing people.     

Not just your colleagues, but all of the amazing donors and supporters that help make the organization what it is!

They share the same passion as you do about the cause you work for, and they want to help in any way they can. Whether it be through volunteering their time, making a monetary donation, hosting their own fundraiser, or simply getting a group of friends together to do a supply drive. Their stories are inspiring and they care.

8. There’s always free food.

One way donors, supporters and businesses like to show appreciation for the work we do, is by bringing us food. I have never worked anywhere that had more free food to eat. The holidays are usually the best. You really have to watch your figure – which I guess is a benefit since the free food makes you want to go to the gym more!

9. You will make life-long friends.

The amount of people employed in nonprofit is typically far less than most regular companies. Again, mostly in part, so that more money can go toward the organization’s programs.

Since you often work in such small teams’ day-in and day-out {and sometimes nights and weekends}, you really get to know your colleagues. You hang out together outside of work. You have inside jokes. You give each other holiday and birthday gifts. You create many new friendships.

Two of my closest friends, I met through working in nonprofit. I call them my “work wives” {since our office happens to be 99% female}. Yet I have created numerous other significant friendships with my other colleagues too.

They are like family. 

10. We really do make the world a better place. 

We may be stressed. We may be tired. We may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. We may dream about work all \ the time. We may even cry from the over-whelming emotions.  

But our work really does help make animal’s and people’s lives better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

6 Tips to Get Control of your Email

“I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it boots up. I go on line, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You've got mail.”
-Kathleen Kelly (You’ve Got Mail, 1998) 

Ahhh, the good ole’ days! When waiting for dial-up had us all sitting on the edge of our seats. Just so we could see if anyone had emailed us that day. Now not a day goes by where we aren’t checking our email every minute of the day.

It’s even become the primary form of communication for most people. Email is fast, less intrusive than a phone call, and can be done from just about anywhere with technology at our disposal.

But when used inappropriately, email can take over our lives!

According to research released by the McKinsey Global Institute, more than one-quarter of a worker's day on average is spent answering and reading emails. It found that email is the second-most time-consuming activity for workers, next to "role-specific tasks." Reading and responding to every message can be draining. A cluttered inbox can be frustrating. And those little pop-ups telling you “you’ve got mail” can be mesmerizing. 

So here are SIX tips to get control of your email so it stops controlling you!

1. Set aside time to read and respond to email.

Notifications from incoming messages can interrupt your train of thought and leave you unfocused. Instead of constantly checking your email, schedule certain times of the day to do it. You might even try marking your calendar and setting your availability to “busy.”

At my last job, I would get an email approximately every 5-10 minutes. That’s anywhere from 50-100 emails for a standard eight-hour work day. I finally decided to track how much time I was spending on emails per day. I was floored to find out that it was almost half of my day. Half of my day!

That’s when I decided to set a schedule. I opted for three times per day for 30 minutes each. Once at the start of my work day, once after lunch, and once at the end of the day. I even put it on my calendar to block that time and set a reminder. It was a lifesaver!

The amount of time you require for reviewing and replying to emails will depend on how frequently you check messages and how many you typically receive. Some find it more effective to dedicate 10 minutes every hour to email. Others prefer to only check email just two or three times a day. Find what works best for you.

2. Turn off your notifications.

Some people prefer to turn off their email program completely. I don’t feel 100% comfortable with this since I use my calendar and task manager for reminders of meetings and deadlines. I also set reminders on my calendar to check my email. If my email program is shut down, then I don’t get those reminders. Thus sometimes messing up the schedule of my day.

So I turned off my notifications. The more pop-up notifications you see and alerts that you hear, the more distracted you are from your other tasks. Don’t forget to also turn off the envelope icon notification that can pop up in your lower task bar. As well as the “red bubble” notification on your apps {for Apple products}. 

3. Take action immediately.

First, browse your inbox for emails that can be immediately deleted, such as spam or promotional emails. Also look for emails that don’t require a response and can either be deleted or archived, such as new hire announcements or co-workers telling you there is free food in the kitchen {this is almost a daily occurrence for me}.

For those of you who are always hesitant to get rid of any emails… get over it. If you want to prevent your inbox from completely spiraling out of control, you can't be afraid to delete those messages that you know you're never going to need again. The more you delete, the cleaner your email account is. 

Next, look for those pesky little emails that require a response but don't involve a huge time commitment. Emails such as a friend firming up lunch plans or a client needing a document that is already completed. Responding to these should take almost no time at all. Letting them sit there and stack up can eventually make them more overwhelming then they should ever be.

Once you’ve pared down the number of emails in your inbox, you’ll be able to better evaluate which ones are the most critical. Don’t let important emails sit in your inbox for days. Unless you’re on vacation, you should always try to reply as soon as you’ve read the email. That way you don’t forget about them or are rushed to get back to them later.

If you’re unable to respond immediately, the standard rule is to reply within 48 hours. If you need more than 48 hours to be able to properly respond, then communicate to the sender that you received the message and will be in touch shortly. Set a deadline and follow up.

4. Turn off your “Mark as Read” function.

Some people may not know what I am referring to when I say your “Mark as Read” function.
This is when you click on an email to look over it or read it, and when you click off of it, it will now show that you have “read” it. Hence, no more alerting you that action still needs to be taken. Too many times I have had people tell me they didn’t see my email, or forgot that I sent an email, because they had this function turned on.

If you use shared email boxes with coworkers, you will definitely want to turn off this feature. Otherwise, emails will be marked as read and your coworkers will probably assume that you already took care of it {especially if they don’t tell you otherwise}.

Some people tell me that keeping this feature on helps keep them organized. But they always tend to be the ones that still miss emails or let them sit in their inbox for way too long. Please turn it off – for your sake and mine.


5. Organize your inbox with folders.  

I had a boss one time that had {I kid you not} over 5,000 emails in their inbox!

One of the reasons was because they didn’t want to delete anything in case they needed it later. The other reason was because they hated the idea of using folders. They thought it’s easier to be able to search the inbox if they needed to find an email. This was also the reason why several emails would be missed time and time again.

Although most emails can be deleted, you’ll most likely want to retain certain messages that you may need to reference again in the future. Create parent folders for broad subjects, then use subfolders to file emails related to specific clients, projects, events and tasks.

For example, I have one main email folder called "Animal Magnetism" {the event I am currently working on}. Underneath that folder, I have several folders for certain aspects of the event such as Auction, Marketing, Meetings, and Vendors. Within those subfolders, I typically have more subfolders. For example, in my Vendors folder I have a separate folder for each one of our vendors.

You can continue to add on folders as much as you want, but don’t get too carried away. You may have trouble finding emails if you get too specific.

6. Treat your inbox as your To-Do List.

The same boss that I had that never used folders, was also the same boss that treated their inbox as a dumping ground for emails. Do not treat your inbox as yet another storage folder.

Instead, reserve it for those things that you're currently working on or that you need to take action on. By doing so, your inbox becomes an actionable to-do list of sorts. You can open your email and easily see the things you need to take care of that may have required more time for you to complete.

What other tips do you use for keeping control of your inbox? I’d love to hear them!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Musing Monday: Your Dream Job

Welcome back to the Work Week!

Once people find out what I do for a living, the majority tell me that I have an awesome job. Some even say that I have their dream job. And I have to agree with them because… I love my job!

For those who don’t know what I do for a living, I am an Event Planner for PAWS Chicago. {Check out #9 on my earlier intro post HERE to find out a little more about it.}

I didn’t always have such an amazing job though. Prior to this one, I was stuck at a desk job that let me have very little work-life balance, required way too many long hours, and left me feeling unappreciated 95% of the time {despite my overwhelming success with the company}.

To get to the job I have today, I spent years as a volunteer getting to know people, chipping in whenever possible, and finally hitting the jackpot when a spot opened up {because spots don’t open up often in the non-profit world}.

So on today’s Musing Monday, I would love to know…

What would your dream job would be?
If you already have your dream job, why do you love it so much?

Let me know in the comments below! 

Interested in working in non-profit too? Later this week I’ll be posting about “The Truth About Working in Non-Profit.”

I now leave you with some fun photos from my job!



Not sure what Musing Monday is? Check out the first post HERE!

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