5 Ways a Nonprofit Job Is Different from a For-Profit Job

Get Ready for the Unpredictable

Happy nonprofit employees
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Are you sitting in your corporate cubicle daydreaming about what it would be like to work for a nonprofit rather than stay in the for-profit world?

As a career changer myself, I know just what that can be like. And as much as I've loved my nonprofit work, I did have to wake up to some hard realities about nonprofit organizations. Here are some of them:

Unpredictable hours

Nonprofit hours don't always fit a business template.

Fundraisers may need to seek out potential donors in the evening or on the weekend. Special events may need to be staffed on weekends or even on holidays. Clients may require service at odd hours.

Fulfilling a social mission is not like selling a product during specified "open" hours. On the other hand, most nonprofits are willing to give compensatory time off when your hours become overwhelming. That can be a nice perk.

Budgets that are often not even adequate much less luxurious

Efficient use of every dollar is typical of nonprofit work. 

Your office furniture and computer equipment might be hand-me-downs, and the office location might not be exactly prime. Flexibility and a frugal eye are necessary for most nonprofit groups. It all depends on the type of nonprofit you work for and its size.

Institutional nonprofits such as a hospitals or universities tend to be better financed than a small social justice organization working in the inner city.

It's best to decide how important such things are to you before deciding to go for any particular nonprofit job.

Reaching agreement within a group

Nonprofits depend much more heavily on consensus to reach decisions. Working with volunteers is very different than working with paid staff, for instance.

Nonprofits tend to be more open, democratic, and process driven than companies that deal with products and customers. That can also be a blessing. Many people enjoy the flatter organizational structure in a nonprofit and being included in most decision making.

Nonprofits can create a more family-like atmosphere than most businesses.

Dealing with multiple audiences

People working in for-profit are accustomed to one audience -- the potential purchasers and users of the products or services provided. But in nonprofit, there are multiple audiences with unusual relationships with the organization.

Donors, for instance, are not customers in the usual sense. Volunteers often do the work of paid staff but enjoy a very different relationship with the nonprofit. The people who consume your service or product may not act like the consumers of a product.

Dealing with these multiple stakeholders requires flexibility and the ability to compromise. At the same time, it can be very challenging in a good way. It's pretty hard to get bored when you have to think constantly on your feet and outside the box.

Wearing multiple hats 

Because staffing in many nonprofits is constrained, you may find that you have to do multiple jobs all at the same time.

A fundraiser, for instance, may have to handle public relations and plan an event besides visiting with donors and creating fundraising materials.  

All of this can also be fun and challenging. And there are plenty of opportunities to learn a broad range of skills. Nonprofit workers often find themselves becoming multi-skilled which can be very helpful in building one's career. 

All of these differences between for-profit work and nonprofit can be challenging. But, if you make the change fully prepared, you might just find working in a nonprofit more rewarding than you think.

Good research is the key to jumping ship with eyes wide open. Many of us who have made successful leaps from one sector to the other found informational interviews to be our best bet, followed by working as a volunteer in one or more nonprofits before making a final decision.