Secret perks of working at a nonprofit or not-for-profit

A doctor in street clothes with a stethoscope around his neck holds up two fingers to test the eyesight of a little girl being held by her mother.
September 01, 2020 | Claire Hegstrom

If you’ve been searching for a job that creates deeper purpose in your life, you may have been curious and peeked at opportunities available in the nonprofit and not-for-profit sectors. You may have even applied to a nonprofit job and didn’t even realize it! After all, there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States, and sometimes it can be hard to spot the difference from a job description.

We’re diving into the difference between nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations, the behind-the-scenes perks of working for one, and debunking the myths that may be keeping you from taking the leap to apply.

The difference between nonprofit and not-for-profit

Simply put, not-for-profit organizations do not earn profits for their owners. Instead, any money made by the company is used to run the organization—paying the utilities, rent, and their employees—and the rest is devoted to achieving the goals and objectives of the organization. For example, credit unions, like Alliant, are not-for-profit and return their profits to their members in high deposit rates and low loan rates. Unlike banks, which are for-profit organizations, the credit union makes money for the member, not from the member. A nonprofit is very similar in the ways they run their business and pay employees, but nonprofits also have the freedom to hire volunteer staff.

Because both types of organizations are tax-exempt from many different forms of taxes, they are also highly regulated by state and federal laws to ensure compliance with their specific regulations. Credit unions are regulated and protected by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and the National Credit Union Association (NCUA) which provides insurance on members’ funds, much like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) does for bank customers. Usually there are charity affiliations and other operational practices that both kinds of organizations comply with to keep their tax-exempt status.

Debunking nonprofit job myths

If you talk to anyone outside the not-for-profit or nonprofit field you may hear fantasized thoughts about effortlessly saving the world, all in a day’s work. Or maybe you’ve been told that nonprofit jobs mean little pay and overstretched employees. Let’s debunk some of the most common myths.

  1. “I can’t develop my business skills, everyone is too agreeable there.” On the contrary, nonprofits are highly cross-functional organizations where you’ll usually be collaborating with multiple passionate leaders. One of the trickiest parts of the job is learning how to please leadership, volunteers, donors, and those you serve. No workplace is completely exempt of politics, and you’ll be sure to sharpen your tools of persuasion regularly.
  2. “I can’t earn good money there…do they even pay people?” Unless a job description specifically states “volunteer,” you’ll get paid, and usually very well! According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a nonprofit worker was above $80,000 in the United States, and many leadership positions make six figures a year.
  3. “Every day must be like putting on a superhero cape.” While an inspiring mission and a heartfelt purpose draw many wonderful people into the nonprofit sector, like any job, you’ll have day-to-day tasks that will eventually become mundane. Sure, some days you’re crushing your philanthropic goals, but others you’ll be entering numbers into expense reports. It’s all part of the gig.
  4. “It’s not a real job, and you can’t move up in your career there.” Many people are drawn to the nonprofit sector because they feel deeply connected to the work the organization does, and they’ll spend their entire working life at the same place. Like any career path, there are levels of leadership, and nonprofits are more likely to hire emerging talent that is looking to grow within the organization.

Secret perks of not-for-profit work

Not-for-profit job descriptions are often overly humble about the incredible benefits they offer their workers. Whether you’re attracted to the renewed sense of purpose or flexibility in a new role, there are endless ways that not-for-profits offer competitive advantages.

  • You’ll be surrounded by incredible people. Most people who are called to do not-for-profit work are there because they’re passionate about the goal and purpose of the organization. You’ll probably also feel strongly connected to your coworkers. Not-for-profit opportunities are highly competitive, and hiring managers are offered the best of the best candidates.
  • Be prepared for your skills to skyrocket. At a not-for-profit, you’ll be assigned many kinds of tasks, and you’ll more than likely learn a few new things along the way. Many teams are typically more collaborative than at an average corporate gig, and your skill set and opportunities will probably shift dramatically.
  • You can truly feel great about what you’re doing. While the day-to-day tasks of a not-for-profit job might not seem drastically different, it’s quite unique to work for a company where everyone is working toward a common goal to better the world. There are no stockholders to answer too, and no shady business practices that leave you feeling slimy. You’ll be surrounded by genuine people, honestly working to make a difference in the lives of your community members.
  • Not-for-profit work is extremely diverse. From focused grant writing for a cancer research company to leading a staff of 650 credit union employees, there’s something for everyone, no matter what you’re interested in! Depending on how large or small your organization is, you can dial in on a specific skill set, or take a job with endless learning opportunities.
  • Not-for-profit work is a great resume builder. Choosing a job where you’ll work hard to positively shift the world for the better shows a lot about your character. Having a nonprofit on your resume is a strong sign to recruiters that you are adaptable, have incredible soft skills, and are willing to think outside the box.

Ready to be a part of the magic? Take a look at Alliant’s open positions to see if your renewed purpose is just around the corner.

Claire Hegstrom is an advocate of the credit union movement through and through. Passionate about financial education, she approaches money conversations from a candid and inclusive space focused on growth and awareness. As our credit union founding father, Ed Filene, once said, “Progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better.” Claire hopes reading Money Mentor will help transform your life from the best to even better.

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