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10 things you need to know before switching to a not-for-profit sector job

Ever found yourself dreaming of ditching your corporate or government job in favour of meaningful work in the not-for-profit sector?

If reflecting on your work leaves you feeling less than satisfied with your contribution to the world, a move to the not-for-profit sector could give you the deeper sense of purpose you’ve been seeking.

But despite the benefits, a switch to the not-for-profit sector comes with a caveat: it’s poles apart from the business world. And if you’re unprepared, some things could come as a real shock.

While you shouldn’t allow them to discourage you, these cultural differences are something you need to consider before handing in your resignation letter.

Here are ten key differences in the not-for-profit sector versus the corporate world:

1. Unhurried decision-making

In corporate settings, the ability to quickly make key decisions goes hand-in-hand with the competitive environment. What’s more, the responsibility for these decisions often falls squarely to the managers who made them.

On the other hand, the not-for-profit sector is filled with myriad stakeholders and many layers of discussion and approvals – all of which can stall decision-making. This unpredictability can sometimes result in a difficult adjustment process for those used to decisive action, clear-cut processes and obvious accountability.

2. Navigating community expectations

Plotting your move to a charitable organisation? Then prepare to dust off your communication cap.

Most not-for-profit organisations rely on support and donations from outside stakeholders. That means that whatever your job, you’ll likely need to polish your leadership and communication skills to help build relationships with government, corporate and community leaders.

3. Various measures of success

In corporate environments, the bottom line is king. Not much else matters in the absence of a profit – which often means it’s to be pursued at all costs.

In the not-for-profit sector, however, profit is rarely used as a benchmark for success. The bottom line is often complex and multidimensional, dictated by broad goals rooted in objectives that can be difficult – or sometimes impossible –to measure.

4. A possible pay cut

While moving away from the corporate world and into the not-for-profit sector doesn’t always mean being paid less, it’s rare that wages are as high as in big corporates.

In the not-for-profit sector, it’s widely understood money isn’t the only motivation – and that it’s often the intangible things that make working in the sector so rewarding, including greater flexibility, less hours and better work culture.

One of the biggest perks? Going to work every day in a role that allows you to make a real difference – and that’s nothing to be sniffed at.

5. A shift in culture

Do you thrive on aggressive, fast-paced action in the workplace? Then you may want to rethink your move to the not-for-profit sector.

Make no mistake: the people are passionate, dedicated to their work and strongly believe in what they’re doing. However, a consensus-driven culture can be a slower-paced one, so you’ll need to make time to adjust to this distinctive environment – or reconsider its suitability to you.

6. Limited resources

If you’ve worked in the corporate world, you’re probably familiar with the idea of spending money to make money.

The same can’t be said for the not-for-profit sector, where saving money is the predominant culture of most organisations. As a result, you may need to prepare to shift your mindset and work practices.

7. An emphasis on process

Many not-for-profits rely on government funding to operate – and where government is involved, rigid formalities and procedures are often present.

As a result, you’re probably more likely to encounter managers and leaders resistant to change or bogged down in process. Although, to be fair, there are many big companies where this is also the case – and many nimble, flexible NFPs, too!

8. Generous perks

We mentioned the potential pay hit you might face when accepting a job in the not-for-profit sector.

But on the other hand, many not-for-profits offer generous benefits workers in the private sector might not receive. Tax-free salary packaging, job sharing, opportunities to work from home, generous leave entitlements and flexible hours are all commonplace in the not-for-profit landscape.

9. Demanding workloads

It’s no secret that not-for-profits often operate with fewer resources than they need, and that can mean more stress for staff and volunteers.

Add to that the fact that many not-for-profits are working to address significant social problems with no easy fix.

And while many not-for-profits have a dedicated volunteer workforce to help out, they can’t always be relied upon in times of need – leaving staff to pick up any slack.

10. Consultative and open leadership

If you’re coming from a corporate background, you’ll be accustomed to a top-down decision-making process.

But in many not-for-profits – particularly in small community organisations – decision-making can be much more open and consultative. And that means you’re more likely to have your opinion heard and valued, and to see the impact you can make on your workplace.

In the end, if you want to make the switch to an ethical career, it’s wise to know what you’re getting yourself into before you jump in – the good and the bad.

That means familiarising yourself with the potential rewards and trade-offs to determine if it’s the right move for you.

Have you made the switch from corporate to not-for-profit? What did you find the most difficult adjustment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

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