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10 Things Nobody Tells You About Working For NPOs

10 Things Nobody Tells You About Working For NPOs

Whether you’re just out of college and are looking for your first job, or you are a veteran of the corporate world looking for a way to give back to your community, you may be considering sharing your talents with a nonprofit organization. You’ve probably heard that nonprofits are warm and caring institutions that attract idealistic staff and volunteers who support each other in the service of a worthy cause. And generally, these things are true.

However, here is a mixed bag of things that perhaps you didn’t know about nonprofit organizations (NPOs):

1. NPOs come in many shapes and sizes.

Nonprofit organizations run the gamut from the Girl Scouts to the Humane Society, from search and rescue organizations to the International Function Point Users Group. Even within a single big NPO, such as the Methodist Church or the Salvation Army, there are as many differences among individual agencies as there are between individual people.

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2. NPOs desperately need good business people.

Nonprofits are out to change the world, yes, but they are also businesses, and can greatly benefit from good business minds. Most of the financial support for nonprofits comes from donors, so networking and professional relationship-building skills are at a premium. In addition, someone always needs to keep an eye on the organization’s ‘bottom line’ and act as a reality check when overly grandiose ideas pop up, which is a fairly common occurrence.

3. NPO workers aren’t saints.

Unfortunately, NPOs attract just as much corruption, power jockeying, big egos, backstabbing, and political maneuvering as their for-profit counterparts. Nonprofits are also the third most likely type of business to be victims of embezzlement, after banks and government institutions.

4. You’ll have to make some sacrifices.

The most obvious sacrifice is a fat salary, although not necessarily health insurance, retirement or other benefits. Other sacrifices include having any clear benchmarks of progress, knowing that there are clear, long-term business goals (other than staying afloat), having the latest and greatest technology at your fingertips, or knowing that you have a steady stream of funding or even a long-term job.

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5. There are some pretty cool perks.

In the US, employees can get a student loan forgiven if they accumulate 10 years of full-time work for a registered 501-C3. Also, quite often you can arrange for flex time, enjoy longer vacations, or dress more casually than is possible at a corporate job.

6. It can be difficult to break in.

Nonprofits aren’t in business to provide easy jobs for people who need them. Like all other businesses, they hire the best and brightest employees they can find, and these employees must work harder than many for-profit employees. Couple this with the fact that in rural areas outsiders are often looked upon with distrust, and it can be surprisingly difficult to break into the nonprofit world.

7. Staff members must wear multiple hats.

Because nonprofits must do more with fewer resources, staff is often required to cover the duties of more than one job. For example, the music director at a nonprofit radio station might also have to be an on-air host, engineer shows, train volunteer DJs, and coordinate the underwriting schedule. The good news is that being assigned to multiple projects like this is great way for those who are new to the job market to gain many different skills quickly, and can lead to rapid career advancement.

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8. The work environment can be frustrating.

Because NPOs have to make do with smaller budgets, and their funding is dependent on the whims of donors and the silver tongues of their executives, equipment upgrades and staff training often must take a back seat to the day-to-day expenses of just keeping the lights on. In addition, managers are often hired because of their vision rather than their management acumen. Because business decisions are made democratically, taking into account many different opinions, NPOs are often slower to change than for-profit businesses.

9. There are aspects of working for NPOs that are very satisfying.

People who work for nonprofits tend to love their jobs, they love the staff and volunteers alongside whom they work, and they love the people and the cause they serve.

10. It might be harder to land a corporate job after working for an NPO.

Unfortunately, nonprofits carry the stereotype of attracting incompetent idealists. As Rob Asghar said in this article, “…if you decide to move from the nonprofit world to the for-profit world, you may be saddled with an image of a well-meaning but ill-equipped person from Mayberry.”

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A final thought: NPOs don’t ultimately solve the problems of humanity.

At their core, helping organizations were founded on the desire to match people who want to help with people who need help. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with this, helping organizations can unintentionally perpetuate the very problems they are trying to eradicate. While distributing food to those who are hungry may offer short-term relief – and sometimes this is appropriate – it does not teach people to feed themselves, it does not address the problems that led to the food shortage in the first place, and, over the long term, it creates a system of dependence that undermines self-reliance.

Like all other workplaces, nonprofit organizations have their strengths and their weaknesses, but I hope this little article sheds a little more light on what it’s like to work for one of these organizations. Good luck in your career move!

Featured photo credit: Jian Xiu Smiling/ReSurge International via flickr.com

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

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