Career

Can You Survive Working for a Non-Profit Organisation?

non-profit organisation singapore

Joanne Poh

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If your day job comes across as a little… well… soul-sucking, you’ve probably thought of doing something actually worth caring about. Like, oh, rescuing starving children or saving the environment.

But working in a non-profit organisation, while it can sound glamorous in an Erin Brokovich sort of way, is going to be quite a departure from a regular office job and you need to be prepared for it.

Here are some things you should know about working for a non-profit organisation that they don’t tell you at school.

 

Work-life balance may not always be available

If you think the Shenton Way warriors are the only ones who pull all-nighters at the office, you’re so wrong.

You’ll find that workers in most non-profits work just as hard or even harder than the corporate counterparts, partly because most non-profits are perpetually understaffed and run as lean as a prepubescent fashion model.

In addition, while you might be accustomed to all sorts of employee’s benefits that you take for granted now, these may not be available at non-profit organizations simply because the costs are too high for them. They channel available funds to the cause they support, and won’t spend it on anything that isn’t deemed necessary.

 

You end up doing more than what you were hired for

Non-profits usually run very lean in order to channel whatever money they receive into furthering their cause, ie. they usually can’t afford to pay a guy to sit in the office just to do admin or attend to queries from the media.

This means the average non-profit worker is a supreme multi-tasker. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself maintaining the organisation’s website, planning events, doing admin and handling employee issues in addition to your actual job.

On the flip side, working for a non-profit is often every bit as challenging as working in the corporate world. This means that whatever you do on the job is going to give you major experience points that you can use to your advantage if and when you finally decide to move on.

 

Don’t expect to be paid much

There’s no way around this—you’re almost definitely going to earn less than what you could get in the corporate sector with your skills and experience.

Non-profits prefer not to channel all their resources into funding fat paychecks for their employees, since the whole reason they exist is to support a particular cause. If someone donates a million dollars, it means they get to beef up their programmes and help more people, not give their employees huge bonuses or install gold taps in the office toilet.

This is a huge reason why many idealistic young people burn out and drop out of the non-profit game after a few years. When you’re working around the clock in a job that’s frequently emotionally draining and highly stressful for significantly lower pay, it can be hard to carry on.

On the other hand, as a non-profit employee, it’s likely not too many of your colleagues are going to be sailing into the office with Chanel handbags on their arms. Fighting for a social cause and helping the less fortunate tend to make people undergo a shift in perspective, and you might find yourself spending less, making it easier to live on a lower salary.

 

Don’t expect to be working with slackers

Since few people work in non-profits just for the money, you’ll find yourself working amongst some of the most dedicated employees you’ve ever met. These are people who show up at work to get things done, although they aren’t always given the resources to do so, and are willing to go the extra mile for the cause. You’re not going to be working in an environment where surfing half the day on Facebook is the norm.

Working in an organisation filled with people passionate about a cause is definitely a plus if you’re generally unmotivated or just sick of listening to your coworkers gossiping all through the work day.

 

It can be a great career move

Many people are reluctant to work for non-profits even when they’re passionate about a cause because they think they’ll be sabotaging their career and earning power for the rest of their lives.

The truth is, unless you’ve got a huge job offer on your doorstep, working for a non-profit for some time will probably have a positive effect on your career. Non-profit workers can chalk up experience in a wide range of fields, from medicine and engineering to communications and the arts.

If and when you do decide to leave, you’ll not only have added to your industry experience, but also have done something you perceive as meaningful—which is much harder to come by.

Have you ever worked for a non-profit organisation? Share your stories in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.