Why you should work in the not-for-profit sector (at least once)
Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to work in the not-for-profit sector with several organizations, where I have always found a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment. The opportunity to contribute to causes greater than the bottom line, and make a tangible impact on the lives of individuals and communities is always rewarding. However, what I find just as valuable is the difference it makes in your personal and professional growth. While many people might find the process of working in non-profit or not-for-profit somewhat limiting compared to traditional career paths, I can assure you that the skills, experiences, and perspectives you gain even in a short period of time can outweigh the alternatives you get from the private sector.
Versatility and Adaptability:
Working in the not-for-profit sector forces you to become much more versatile and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. With limited resources (both human resources and otherwise) and a dynamic landscape, you need to wear multiple hats, learn quickly, and handle diverse responsibilities. As a Director of Operations at Nurses Specialized in Wound, Ostomy and Continence Canada, I managed programming, fundraising, and sponsorship generation. But, on a daily basis, I'm also responsible for general administration, receiving phone calls from patients, members, and the general public, troubleshooting random IT problems, monitoring social media, and putting out any fires that come up unexpectedly. This required me to adapt to changing priorities, manage competing demands, and find creative solutions to achieve our goals (while staying afloat). The ability to navigate uncertainty and embrace new challenges is a skill that serves you well in any professional setting.
And hey, the good news is that despite having super limited resources, you aren't alone; my CEO, our Academic Chair, and the rest of our team is also wearing multiple hats at the same time. You can always relate to your coworkers who are working just as hard as you are to make it all work.
Strategic Planning and Resource Management:
Not-for-profit organizations often operate on tight budgets and must maximize their resources to achieve their missions. This environment presents an invaluable opportunity to develop strategic planning and resource management skills. So, for example, when you're made a lead in getting sponsors for fundraising events, you learn to make sure you foster exceptional relationships with sales, marketing, and executive representatives to ensure you have a solid revenue stream locked down for your organization.
It also makes you constantly consider new opportunities to get funds in the door while making your expenses go the furthest. In this sense, you begin to think like an Entrepreneur, thinking of new business models to incorporate into your organization using the limited assets you have and coming up with creative solutions to problems.
The experiences I've gathered working in not-for-profit honed my ability to identify strategic partnerships, negotiate agreements, and effectively allocate resources, and are extremely transferable and highly sought after in various industries.
Stakeholder Engagement and Relationship Building:
Building strong relationships and engaging stakeholders are essential skills in the not-for-profit sector. As a a member of Boards of Directors, and in paid roles for different organizations, I have constantly collaborated with diverse stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, and committee members. From conducting a thank-a-thon to express gratitude to donors to building an Indigenous Wound, Ostomy and Continence Health resource website, I cultivated lasting connections and fostered a sense of community that create a positive feed loop of ideas and support. Developing the ability to connect with stakeholders, listen to their needs, and build meaningful relationships is a skill that translates into success across industries.
Project Management and Execution:
It almost goes without saying that not-for-profit organizations are often involved in complex projects and initiatives that require effective project management skills. Whether it's organizing conferences, launching fundraising campaigns, or implementing educational programs, the ability to plan, coordinate, and execute projects is paramount. Sometimes, you have little to no professional support as well.
As a Digital Marketing Consultant during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I developed a virtual conference service that allowed Not-for-Profit organizations to continue to affordably and reliably raise funds when they were no longer able to hold in-person conferences, which is typically the backbone of their sustainability. I was only able to do this from having multiple years of experience having my hand in many proverbial cookie jars when helping plan in-person events for under-resourced organizations.
In managing multiple of these virtual conferences simultaneously, I had to oversee sponsorship budgets totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars while sharpening my project management skills, including timeline management, stakeholder coordination, and meeting goals.
Ethical Leadership and Social Impact:
Working in the not-for-profit sector provides an opportunity to develop ethical leadership skills and make a tangible social impact. The sector is driven by a strong commitment to ethical practices and positive change. For membership-based organizations, you further responsible to ensuring the decisions you make properly represent the members you're accountable to.
These experiences taught me the importance of ethical decision-making, social responsibility, and the power of collective action. Developing and honing these ethical leadership skills not only contributes to personal growth but also helps create a more just and sustainable society.