You’re determined to make a positive impact on the world, so you want to work for a nonprofit. Is it a good idea? It really depends on who you talk to. In a recent survey of 3,500 nonprofit employees performed by Professionals for NonProfits, 70 percent of employees stated that their jobs were either disappointing or only somewhat fulfilling. 25 percent said that they were thinking about looking for work outside of the nonprofit sector. According to three out of four survey respondents, internal politics lowered their ability to properly function in their jobs.

I have to admit that the results from this survey surprised me. The nonprofit employees in the survey worked in the New York and Washington metropolitan areas. To get some other perspectives, I contacted some folks working in the nonprofit sector in Oregon.

Anissa Arthenayake, Director of Community Education at the OSU Federal Credit Union, told me, “I had always worked for for-profit businesses, being in the banking world. In working for OSU Federal Credit Union I did not see it as a nonprofit, but as a job I fell in love with. It is for me finding my passion and finding my voice.”

Her favorite part of her job is “Getting to meet lots of different people from various backgrounds and socioeconomic conditions. I get to help them by giving them skills to better their lives.” Regarding the personal rewards of her job, she stated that she loves “seeing people succeed.”

I also asked Anissa about the differences of for-profit and nonprofit workplaces. She said, “I find my workplace environment is now all about the relationships. That is the best part.” I asked her if working for a nonprofit provided any surprises, and she said that being able to see others’ needs more clearly and unveiled was unexpected.

Anissa provided the following advice for college students interested in working for a nonprofit: “To work for a nonprofit, a person has to have the fire inside them to work to make a difference due to the extreme hardships you see. A person needs to separate themselves and not internalize others’ troubles. The work can be very rewarding.”

Kathleen Mason, Public Relations Manager for the Aurora Colony Historical Society/Old Aurora Colony Museum, landed her first nonprofit job as a membership development manager for the Girl Scouts after completing a nonprofit management/fundraising certificate program. Her favorite part her current job is “Working with passionate volunteers who give so much of their time, expertise, and money to support causes and organizations. They make me feel so humble.”

Regarding the differences between the for-profit and nonprofit workplace environments, she stated, “Just as in [for profit] businesses, the larger the nonprofit, the more of a corporate environment you will encounter – including a larger hierarchy. This hierarchy, from the executive on down, seems at times to mirror its own large corporate donors. Smaller nonprofits, in my experience, tend to have a more business casual environment.”

She provided the following advice for college students thinking about working for a nonprofit: “Just do it! The pay will not be as good as in the for-profit sector, but the trade off is that you could gain more responsibilities and experience than you would in another entry-level job or higher job.”

“Do think about internships – just cold call – you can always talk to someone about tailoring an internship that suits your degree focus and their organizational needs. Nonprofits are always looking for employees who can step up to help, even if it’s not in their job description. Also, since nonprofits have become much more professional, degrees in nonprofit management are available, and there is a greater demand for accountants, human resource managers, marketing professionals, grant writers, and of course capable organizational leaders with great people skills.”

Typically, nonprofit jobs involve a lot of hard work and are perhaps more challenging than jobs at for-profits. Due to limited funding, employees at nonprofits often have more job responsibilities than those working for for-profits. Employees at nonprofits often have to do more with less and in shorter periods of time.

Many small nonprofits have a flat organizational structure which allows even interns to provide their ideas and affect change. The loose hierarchical structure allows for closer working relationships among staff members and it also allows for changes to be made quickly. However, some nonprofits are more traditional and hierarchical. The intrinsic benefits of working for a nonprofit can outweigh the higher salaries provided by for-profits. When working for a nonprofit, you are able to engage your head and your heart.

To succeed at a nonprofit, one needs to be self-directed, be prepared to take initiative, and not see it as a typical job. Commitment and passion are important!

Brian Jenkins writes about careers in accounting, among other career fields, for

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