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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 March 25, 2019

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up. You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out.

But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

3. Go to All Office Networking Events

Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

4. Show Initiative

Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

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Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

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Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

7. Find a Mentor

With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

9. Set Your Professional Bar High

Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

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Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

The Bottom Line

Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

“Half of life is showing up.”

The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

Remember, your career is your business!

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Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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