Working in the Non-Profit Sector Recap, Part 2: Addressing the Myths

This is the second part of our recap  of the Working in the Non-Profit Sector event that took place on March 30, 2011.  After sharing their educational and career experiences, the panelists addressed a variety of myths about the sector.    

1) Professionals in the sector will not make enough money to live comfortably.

Trina explains that due to being a frugal spender, she was able to purchase her own condo at thirty. She mentions that though she is paid half of what her lawyer friend makes, she is much happier. Stuart explains that though the non-profit sector may not pay as much as for-profit, a network like the BBC still pays someone with his position very well, and the values of the network and the people he works make him passionate and satisfied with his work. For him, a higher salary is not a strong enough incentive to abandon that. There’s only so much one needs, anyhow – however, he acknowledges that different organizations may pay significantly less than what he earns, and they may consider the lower pay a bigger hindrance on their comfort and lifestyle.

2) There is little job security.
Trina explains that as it is, even for-profit companies don’t offer true job security, as they often only secure funding for a position for one to two years. Working in the non-profit sector means working in a field that is more receptive to what employees of Trina’s generation truly want – fewer hours, free time for volunteering, exercise and personal development. The for-profit sector is not addressing these needs as well as non-profit, and they do not understand why their younger employees are not as passionate about their work as they could be.  Can still get fired or laid off in the corporate world – funding often only available for one or two years.

3) There’s no upwards mobility. Andrea responded that her coordination role began as a basic position – it was due to her hard work as well as the opportunity for growth and flexibility that St John offered that she could move on to higher positions. She comments that if students expect this, they have to exhibit an excellent work ethic.

4) Working in certain organizations make it difficult to start a family. This depends on the  type of non-profit you work for. Stuart explains that in his experience, this is true, but he worked in countries that were in states of emergency, and while it was a perfect fit for him given his personality and interests, it put his wife and children in danger. His wife also had to have a subordinate career – she worked as a teacher and was willing to move if Stuart was assigned to work in a new country. Many of his friends working for international non-profits agree this to be an important consideration.

Stuart also explains that positions you work on depend on what life stage you are at. When one is a single graduate, their adaptability is very different from when they start a family. You’ve got the least baggage you’ll ever have right now – if you want to take a chance and explore the world, this is the perfect time.

Other panelists such as Liz and Effie explain that since the nature of their work is different, positions in non-profit give them greater flexibility in balancing family and work, since they can clock their hours and make them up later.

5) I’m worried about job security and a competitive salary with non-profits highly influenced by government grants and donations? Andrea explains that in some cases, some non-profits do shut down if their money runs out and they don’t have alternate ways of creating income. If you’re worried an organization you’re interested in may run into this issue, try to work somewhere that is more self-sufficient. St John, for instance, makes money from students that take their coursers, so they are not influenced by government grant cuts.

Thank You to Our Participants

If you’d like to learn more from the panelists, they welcome your questions! You can get in contact with them through their website links. Don’t be shy – you may just gain a valuable mentor or a fulfilling volunteer position.

Thank you to our panelists for taking the time to volunteer and share their stories with the SFU community, and thank you to the students for your interest and intelligent questions.  We look forward to hosting a new panel in 2012, so spread the word to your friends!

Interested in Being on the Panel?

If you’re considering speaking next year, this event is a great opportunity to hear the experiences of other leaders in the sector as passionate about their work as you. The non-profit community is tight-knit as it is, but this event offers a unique opportunity for organizations to come together and offer advice for the next generation.

You can read our preliminary panelist biographies here, here and here.

Image via Outstanding Virtual Assistance.

By Sonya Reznitsky