Dispelling nonprofit career myths

Job seekers should consider nonprofit careers for personal and professional gain

Phoebe Krueger

You see a great job posting, meet all the requirements, love the duties and responsibilities, but then realize the posting is for a nonprofit organization, and think: “How could I – a professional from a corporate setting – transition to nonprofit employment? Isn’t the nonprofit world for touchy-feely do-gooders who only think about saving the world but know little about running a business?”

When exploring the full employment landscape, job seekers who have traditionally worked in a corporate setting may struggle with these questions as they evaluate the next step in their career paths.

Here are five myths about nonprofits that should be dispelled, and some key differences that once understood, may ease that struggle.

Myth: Nonprofit leaders and employees are not business people.

Reality: Much like business people, nonprofit employees are charged with running financially viable and healthy organizations. In fact, most nonprofits have the same requirements and controls in place as private sector employers including boards of directors, bylaws and annual reports.

Myth: You can’t live on a nonprofit salary.

Reality: While it is true nonprofits tend to pay less than for-profits, salaries have been steadily increasing over the years. Many nonprofits provide employee access to key benefits (health and wellness programs, professional development, paid time off, etc.) that when combined with salary, provide competitive total compensation packages and opportunities for growth.

Myth: Nonprofit jobs are not as challenging as private sector jobs.

Reality: True – in that most nonprofit jobs are MORE challenging. Many businesses, especially smaller ones, rarely have more than two or three lines of business. However, a nonprofit organization could have five or more different lines of business, ranging from education to community outreach to job placement. Understanding the business model for each business line provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities for a business person transitioning into nonprofit employment.

Myth: Nonprofits operate at a slower pace and don’t adopt new communications technologies.

Reality: You mean like kiva.org, nten.org, benelab.org. or idealist.org? These and many more routinely receive accolades about being on the bleeding edge of tech adoption and service delivery based on tech platforms. Other organizations like techsoup.org help nonprofits keep up with tech products, services and learning resources while being budget conscious.

Myth: Nonprofits are only for older employees looking for encore careers.

Reality: The largest segment of nonprofit employees is the 25-35 age group. In fact, many millennials (those born in the 1980s and 90s) enter the workforce through nonprofits careers due to the increased number of job opportunities and their desire to make a meaningful impact through their paid work.

It’s true that the nonprofit arena is not for everyone, just as the for-profit world is not. But, today’s tech savvy, entrepreneurial, mission-driven and challenge-hunting job seekers should certainly consider nonprofit careers for personal and professional gain. And as an added bonus, you just might help save the world.

Phoebe Krueger is vice president and nonprofit relationship banking officer for Pacific Continental Bank in Vancouver. She can be reached at Phoebe.Krueger@therightbank.com.

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