The downside: The negatives to working for a non-profit

This week washingtonpost.com reported results from the study “Ready to Lead?rtlcover.jpg Next Generation Leaders Speak Out.” The study found that non-profits will soon face a crisis in leadership. As top executives “gray,” non-profits have not stepped up to nurture young employees, causing talent to leave the sector by droves.

I said I’d write about the reality of working for a non-profit. Until now I’ve been pretty positive, but that article got me thinking. Although I enjoyed working for a non-profit, there were some headaches.

It isn’t a surprise that the majority of young non-profit employees feel underpaid, but below are my top four reasons I feel non-profit employees become dissatisfied.

1. It’s all about the money
Non-profits are just as obsessed with getting the almighty dollar, albeit in a slightlymoney_bag_with_dollar_sign.jpg different way than corporations. In non-profits, donors rule. If a donor donates a million dollars to start a chinchilla farm for your organization, who cares if that doesn’t fit with your mission, because—HELLO, it’s a MILLION DOLLARS. That example might be a bit extreme, but some of the lengths non-profits will go to cater to big donors is enough to make Donald Trump blush.

2. Shorthanded doesn’t mean you can do my job
Oftentimes, small non-profit staffs perform a lot of different duties and that’s great. But when a non-profit hires a professional people need to learn to LET GO.

Public relations is a profession. I was hired because I’m a trained professional, not because I make my family calendar on Microsoft Publisher.

3. Isn’t that great …
This one could just be in my head. When someone new asked me where I work, I’d say a non-profit. People inevitably say “Oh, isn’t that nice,” while their body language says another story.

People respond with reassuring stories of people they knew who worked for non-profits and turned out alright. It’s a lot like telling people you met your fiancé online, which coincidently I did. There is a bit of a stigma, whether conscious or not, for a professional at a non-profit.

4. Really, I worked all year for a ham?

ham.jpg The worst part of a non-profit is the cold, hard cash. My salary really wasn’t a problem; it was knowing there was no chance for promotion or significant raises no matter how hard I worked.

Holiday time was the worst. It was easy for my coworkers to get salty about their holiday ham when their friends at corporations were getting hundreds if not thousands of dollars in end-of-the-year bonuses. To top it off, you’re expected to donate too (without the special donor treatment.)

That sums up the worst of it all from my perspective. Hopefully, I haven’t scared everyone away because my intent was just to be honest. I still really enjoyed working at a non-profit and look forward to working for another one soon.

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2 Responses to “The downside: The negatives to working for a non-profit”


  1. 1 Bill March 14, 2008 at 1:30 am

    The term rogue brochure should send chills down any PR practitioner’s spine.

  2. 2 Lena December 14, 2008 at 1:18 am

    This is an excellent post. Having worked for non profits for sometime you are right on the money (or should I say lack of in most non profits). Although their intentions are to be commended I have yet to find one that runs there organization with some originality. The raffles, open houses, and continuous expectations for staff to give of time and money is almost as annoying as the lack of accountability.


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