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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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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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