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Ready to switch to a not-for-profit job? Read this checklist first

Switching from the corporate sector to work for a not-for-profit could be the best move you ever make to rejuvenate your career and values. But it comes with a warning: you could be in for a culture shock.

After conquering the corporate world, the prospect of a community job can be inspiring – it’s the chance to make a positive impact, give something back and feel a warm glow.

However, not-for profit workplaces can be considerably different to the business world. It is not just like moving suburb, it can be more like moving to a different country where the language and culture is completely foreign.

This shouldn’t discourage anyone who’s drawn into the sector through exposure to a particular health condition, through a social or environmental issue that is close to them or simply via a personal awakening.

But before opening the door to a not-for-profit career, be prepared for these cultural differences:

1. Decisions are made gently, not swiftly

Corporate managers are used to being entrusted with key decisions knowing that they bear the responsibility for the consequences, whereas, in (some) not-for-profit settings the decision-making can be frustratingly slow with a myriad of stakeholders and multiple layers of discussion and approvals.

2. Dealing with community expectations

Working for a charity involves a public relations challenge. Being able to persuade people to support your organisation and donate to it is a test for anyone’s leadership and communication skills. But it’s also a great chance to have a good reason to build relationships with government, corporate and community leaders.

3. Multiple measures of success

In the business world there’s usually only one bottom line: the bottom line. In the NFP world, the bottom line is usually complex and multidimensional; sometimes the goals are quite broad and based around objectives that can be hard or even impossible to measure.

4. (Possible) lower pay – a badge of honour

Don’t assume the pay will be lower than in the business world – but it is widely understood that money is not the only motivation. The privilege of being paid to work in a purposeful role is often seen as part of the reward.

5. Passionate but non-aggressive culture

The people are dedicated and passionate as they are working for something they believe in. However, a consensus-driven culture can be relatively passive and takes time to adjust to for anyone coming from an aggressive, for-profit workplace.

6. Resource constrained environment

Leave behind the corporate mantra of ‘spend money to make money’ because a culture of ‘scrimping and saving’ on every cost is the default approach in most not-for-profits.

7. Process-oriented people

Innovators and creative people may clash with process-oriented managers who tend to resist change. Watch out for this dynamic in organisations that rely heavily on government funding.

8. Salary sacrifice and flexible hours

NFP organisations have access to salary sacrifice a broader range of everyday expenses and they are often way ahead of their corporate colleagues in job sharing, working from home, leaves of absence, and flexible hours.

9. Stressful workloads

Side by side with flexible hours can sit heavy work loads. Because most organisations are tackling huge problems with (usually) scarce resources there is commonly more to do than there are people and resources to work with, and it can feel like the job is never finished.

10. Openness and consultation

Especially in smaller community organisations, managers and leaders are expected to be extremely open and consultative. If you’re used to top-down decision-making, it can be surprising how much weight a single member or volunteer opinion may carry.

An ethical career path can end up being the best career move you ever make, but make sure you go in with your eyes open by understanding the rewards and accepting the trade-offs.

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