Are you considering working at a nonprofit?

A square character thinking,

My entire career has been at nonprofits and I've learned a few things along the way...

1. You'll be wearing many hats.

Don’t be fooled by the job description! You WILL find "surprise responsibilities" working in a nonprofit.

A cartoon bunny jumping in front of the text,

This is actually one of the best perks about nonprofits!

You can try new things from graphic design, project management and fundraising, to managing up, wide, and every way possible.

A woman trying on many hats. The text reads,

I will say though, you might end up working more than you planned. You need to be comfortable with change, ambiguity, and uncertainty.

2. The stakeholders are varied.

Working at a nonprofit means you'll have multiple bosses in the form of stakeholders.

These include:

  • donors

  • volunteers

  • community partners

  • the people you provide services for

Multiple penguins in different clothing.

You have to be able to understand each group and what they bring to the table. 

I found the easiest way to navigate these varied relationships and politics was to focus on the mission!

3. You'll work with a lot of volunteers.

Nonprofits rely on volunteers to do a lot of the work. 

An organization I worked at served around 3,000 people a year with only 15 paid staff. 300+ volunteers made that possible!

A volunteer working at nonprofit. Photo by ray sangga kusuma on Unsplash

  • Volunteers are passionate about the work they do.

  • Volunteers work for free! Be sure to make their work worthwhile.

  • There's the potential for less reliability, so you may have to pick up the slack sometimes.

A cartoon dinosaur happily hugging a yellow bird.

4. It's all about relationships.

Building relationships and making connections with others is key, especially if your nonprofit or program is new.

I loved meeting new people! It felt like a non-stop coffee date with others who shared my values and goals.

Two coworkers enjoying a coffee in a work break room. Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Building relationships is more than drinking coffee, of course — it takes a lot of time and care. I had to be thoughtful and show others that we were of value to them.

Oftentimes, what you do is less important than how you treat others. Respectful, collaborative relationships will open many doors.

Curiosity and reciprocity are great ways to nurture a professional partnership. 

Two runners shaking hands in a field. Photo by Massimo Sartirana on Unsplash

5. It's like working in sales.

Another thing that I wish I knew before working in the nonprofit sector is that you're constantly trying to persuade others.

A penguin asking,

You're selling the organization's vision, convincing donors about the mission, pitching program ideas, etc.

If you’ve ever worked in sales, you know that empathyrecognizing the feelings and needs of your audience — is key. 

Practice public speaking! Being articulate, passionate, and convincing are skills to build if you want to work in the nonprofit sector.

Tom wants to improve his persuasive skills to benefit his organization. What should he do to excel in this aspect?

A: Get to know potential donors.

B: Create a fact sheet that explains the organization's mission.

C: Ask to hire a salesperson.

D: Delegate public speaking opportunities to a colleague.


Select ALL the statement that would help Tom reach his goals.

6. Not everything is unicorns and rainbows.

Not everyone is ALL smiles ALL the time.

Everyone does care for the cause, but there are still office politics, big egos, and difficult personalities like any other professional environment.

Snow White meeting one of the seven dwarves. She says,

It took me a little while to separate my feelings from my work on this one. It helped me to focus on the shared goal and mission, NOT on the individual.

7. You need patience, a willingness to grow, and a big dose of humility.

It takes empathy and patience to work with people at the margins of society, whether it's in terms of health, power, or privilege. You might start questioning humanity.

I learned to be adaptable and to practice self care as much as I took care of others.

Scrabble tiles that read, Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When you focus on your everyday tasks and challenges, nothing feels "enough" (enough funds, volunteers, services delivered).

But remember, your work makes a difference even if you don't always feel it.

Take Action

A painted sign that reads, Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

As you continue to think about your next move and whether working at a nonprofit is the right choice for you, ask yourself these questions:


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