7 Things You Might Not Know About Working for a Nonprofit


For the last six years, I’ve worked in the social sector, or as most people know it, the nonprofit world. Technically speaking, I never actually worked for a nonprofit—I was employed at two prominent foundations—but there are many similarities, and of course, because we were serving and partnering with nonprofits, I was knee deep in that world.

Just like any other job, there are certain things that everyone hears about: lower pay, sometimes longer hours, smaller staff and budget, and dealing with supporters who want to know more and more about how their donations are used for your cause. Dirty words like “overhead” and buzzwords like “innovation” are plentiful in the nonprofit world, and new memes and Tumblrs are popping up every day to add a touch of humor to the daily adventures of a do-gooder.

But don’t think you’ve got it covered—take a look below at seven things you probably didn’t realize about working at a nonprofit:

1 / Nonprofit staff grow tired of doing good, too.

People joke that leaving the social sector to go corporate is going to the “dark side.” But just like you can get burnt out in a desk job at a big firm or tech company, we nonprofit folks can also reach a point where we no longer feel challenged or fulfilled. Sometimes we just want to take a break from doing good, and do something different. (What I’m doing now!)

2 / You can get paid well.

Nonprofit doesn’t always equal a low salary. Some larger nonprofits and foundations offer very competitive salaries, even for mid-level positions. Also, many organizations provide excellent benefits like more vacation time, great health insurance and credits for transportation or fitness activities.

3 / Awesome opportunities are everywhere.

In my first month of working for an international development foundation, I met our founder, Ted Turner, and helped to host events at MTV studios and the New York Stock Exchange. In my most recent job, I had the pleasure of working for the founder of AOL, Steve Case, and met inspirational social good and technology leaders like Barbara Bush (the daughter), Jen Palhka, Scott Case and more.

4 / Limited budget doesn’t always mean limitations.

I was fortunate to work at two foundations that really knew how to make the most of its resources. Everyone was always surprised at how much we accomplished with our small staff and budget. The secret to successful marketing campaigns with deep impact for many nonprofits is an empowered staff that thinks creatively, is flexible, and forms strong partnerships.

5 / There are no true business hours.

Unlike stores and corporations that can close at 5 p.m. and pick up at 9 a.m. the next day, people make donations at all hours and crises can happen at any time. One of the biggest challenges of working for a nonprofit, especially in communications, is that you always need to be ready to respond. Poverty, health and disaster don’t care what time zone you’re in or if you have plans after work.

6 / Egos have a place here, too.

You don’t have to be CEO of a major company or make millions of dollars to get a big head. Although people in the nonprofit sector are generally more about their work than themselves, you will still run up against colleagues who will throw you under the bus, scheme to get their next title and raise, and work only to make a name for themselves.

7 / You will meet friends and mentors for life.

At my first job at a firm for progressive nonprofit clients, I met a group of girls that I still count as some of my closest friends today, and one woman who became a mentor. In my six years in the nonprofit community, I have developed relationships with people that I know will last for years to come—some that I met online, some at conferences, or in the next cube. Get to know your colleagues and peers—they could make a huge impact in your life, and you in theirs.