From the Experts: The Truth About Working in the Nonprofit Sector

Working in the nonprofit sector can bring both countless opportunities, and of course obstacles, that can influence your personal growth and involvement within the organization. Through our Nonprofit Spotlight interview series, we have interviewed nonprofit leaders who have shared their experiences and expertise on navigating the many issues that accompany not-for-profit work. Our experts identify the drawbacks they face in their sectors and the steps they have taken to become successful in the nonprofit field.

1.Relaying Your Mission Could be an Uphill Battle

Due to the countless organizations that are working to strengthen communities across the country, it can often be difficult to differentiate your nonprofit from others and rally supporters who wholeheartedly believe in your mission.

“We need more and more folks out there championing this work,” says Lindsey Ketchel, Executive Director of the Wisconsin-based environmental nonprofit Landmark Conservancy.

“Fewer and fewer people care about the environment, so if you’re in this field, you’re needed in a big way.”

By increasing your nonprofit’s presence and addressing the challenges that may or may not take some time to solve, your organization can have a lasting influence on current and future generations.

2. Fundraising Can Be a Continuous Struggle

Organizations of all sizes and in different markets often face fundraising barriers that prevent them from executing their services and programs. Jesse Kornberg, President and CEO of the Los Angeles social justice organization Bet Tzedek, said in the years between 2006 and 2019, the number of nonprofits doubled but the amount of philanthropic dollars given decreased by 30 percent. Although many organizations have strong and reliable financial supporters, others are constantly grasping for funding sources.

“We need to combine forces and engage in this work collaboratively and grow through either existing nonprofit structures or through collaborations among nonprofit structures,” states Kornberg.

“Otherwise, we’re just fighting for a dwindling pot of money, and none of us win in that scenario.”

3. The Industry May Not Be Lucrative

Compared to for-profit industries, many nonprofits fail to offer competitive salaries. While salaries across the sector vary widely, organizations provide benefits, including extra vacation time and flexible hours, to employees. However, individuals are drawn to nonprofit work simply because of its mission-driven nature.

“There’s not a day that happens that I don’t know that by waking up, by going to work, by engaging with my partners and my colleagues, I’m going to make a difference in someone’s life,” says Bet Tzedek’s Vice President of External Affairs Allison Lee.

“I do think it’s a career and a life path of meaning and purpose, but I also think it’s a life path in which you have to pace your expectations.”

Managing Director of the Marin Shakespeare Company Lesley Currier states that while larger and smaller artistic organizations offer different career revenues, being passionate about the work is far more significant than being financially successful when working for a nonprofit.

“You will enrich your soul and you will help to enrich the lives of many, many people.”

4. Above All, the Work is Extremely Fulfilling

Of course, making a true difference in the lives of many is the main purpose of nonprofit work, and being part of that opportunity is both personally enriching and gratifying.

“The opportunity both to be connected to mission-driven outcomes and to be in the position of supporting the successes of all of these other employees and volunteers who are working to be the positive change they want to see in the world…is an incredible privilege and delight,” explains Kornberg.

“I think people talk a lot these days about what keeps them up at night, and the great thing about going into nonprofit work and growing into leadership in nonprofit work is that you know what gets you up in the morning,” adds Lee.

“Recognize that you are on a path to good and on a path of meaning.”

For more experiences on nonprofit leadership, read our Nonprofit Spotlight interviews or watch our INSIGHT interviews produced in collaboration with PBS stations across the country.

To contribute your thoughts to our Nonprofit Spotlight series and other initiatives, please Contact Us.

From the Experts, News, Nonprofit Spotlight
News, Nonprofit Spotlight