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.

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