Eight Myths About Working in the Nonprofit Industry

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For those who have spent a lot of time working in the nonprofit world, it can be surprising to see how many people don’t understand the sector and consider getting a job at a nonprofit after retiring from business. Here are eight myths about working in the industry.

Myth 1: Nonprofit employees are mostly social workers

Years ago, many nonprofits were places where social workers, nuns and retirees spent their time meeting community needs (feeding, housing, educating, counseling, etc.). While today’s nonprofits are still addressing community problems, organizations have greatly evolved. They’re now at the forefront of solving complex life issues, advocating for rights and providing the safety net that was once a primary role of the government.

As the sector has evolved, so have the necessary credentials of professionals who work in nonprofits. Having the heart (passion) is still necessary. But equally important is having the head (knowledge) to ensure these important operations are run efficiently and effectively.

For that reason, today’s nonprofits employ more than just social workers. You’ll also find professionals with Ph.D.s, M.B.A.s, J.D.s and degrees in business, psychology and other specialized disciplines working in the sector.

Myth 2: Nonprofits employ people who can’t succeed in the business world

Those who work in nonprofit organizations are highly motivated and intelligent. They choose their careers based on a desire to make the world a better place to live—not just on how much fortune or fame they can gain.

Many people make the jump from for-profit to nonprofit. Those with backgrounds in government, finance, private businesses and corporations find their skills and experience blend nicely with nonprofit work. 

Myth 3: Nonprofit employers are mostly small operations

There are plenty of small nonprofit organizations. But there also are many large, multifaceted operations with hundreds or thousands of employees. In numerous communities, nonprofits have the largest workforce. Many health care systems and private universities employ thousands of highly skilled workers. 

A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies reported that the nonprofit sector is the nation’s third-largest workforce. Only two other industries—retail trade and manufacturing—have larger workforces.

Myth 4: Nonprofit employees don’t get paid decent wages

It’s true that most people working in nonprofit organizations aren’t overpaid. But salaries and benefits have risen considerably over the past decade. Nonprofit sector wages are, at all levels, highly competitive with other industries. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that workers in the nonprofit sector often receive higher wages and better benefits than for-profit workers.

Myth 5: Nonprofits will hire any warm body that comes through the door

Most nonprofit organizations are filled with employees who are extremely passionate about the work, and they’re very picky about whom they employ. They look for skilled people who are determined to accomplish the nonprofit’s mission.

A lot of nonprofits are well known, respected and considered a desirable place to work. So, it’s not surprising these groups receive a flood of applications when vacancies occur, allowing them to select from a pool of quality candidates.

Myth 6: Working at a nonprofit is easier than working at a for-profit company 

Working in the nonprofit sector isn’t for the faint-hearted or unmotivated person. In many ways, it can be harder than working at a for-profit. Nonprofits usually have very limited budgets, which means they must do more with less. They have to stretch dollars and frequently make sacrifices to help the organization succeed. The hours can be long, and the demands for their help can be overwhelming at times. 

But the rewards go far beyond monetary. There’s great satisfaction in helping people in need and knowing you had a part in making our world a better place to live. Studies have shown people working in the nonprofit industry have much higher satisfaction rates than those working in the for-profit sector.

Myth 7: All nonprofit organizations do social work

While some nonprofits are actively engaged in “social good,” there are many other types of work within the sector. In fact, there are more than two dozen different types of tax-exempt organizations. These include food pantries, recovery centers, hospitals, colleges and universities, faith-based groups, labor unions, animal shelters, credit unions, sports leagues, historical organizations, chambers of commerce, scientific groups, neighborhood associations, country clubs and more.

Nonprofit employees have diverse and challenging daily tasks that are frequently outside the realm of social work.

Myth 8: Nonprofit work isn’t a profession

It’s not unusual to find people who have spent their entire careers working with nonprofits. Decades ago, the nonprofit industry was filled with organizations run by one part-time paid employee and a handful of volunteers. But today’s organizations have highly skilled employees who have made a career of nonprofit work.

It’s well known that today’s young professionals are civic-minded and determined to change the world. Their determination and passion are a perfect fit for most nonprofit organizations. Many in this age group are now viewing nonprofit work as a lifelong pursuit.

Colleges and universities now offer academic programs designed to train the new wave of engaged students and current nonprofit industry professionals. Degrees in nonprofit, philanthropy and social enterprise have popped up throughout the U.S. and online. 

Whether you’re starting a new career, considering a change or nearing retirement, working in the nonprofit industry is a rewarding opportunity to consider. For more information, reach out to your BKD Trusted Advisor™ or use the Contact Us form below.

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