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Want to Work at a Nonprofit? Don't be on "Funniest Career Videos"

The nonprofit world might be the switch you need to love your job. Here's some tips on how to avoid the some of the biggest mistakes and expectations when changing to a career in the non-profit world.

I admit it; once in a while I watch those "Funniest Video" television programs. What's the attraction? Usually seeing someone get hit or hit themselves suddenly, when they least expected it. It's embarrassing to admit that I chuckle - sometimes audibly. Maybe it's being human, but there is a perverse pleasure in seeing someone run into the unexpected. "Oh, that hurts!" But you know that the guy was thinking more than that when it happened. When it happens to me - I suffer greatly. I'm sure you feel the same.

This is especially painful when it happens in our career. After being hit enough times, we make a decision to leave (or was given the final blow and asked to leave). We pick ourselves up, brush off and find what we think will be a perfect match - working in a nonprofit organization supporting a mission we love. We have a great idea of where we want to work and what we can do for an organization that seems like the right fit, but boom! We're hit with something we totally didn't expect. We get another blow, but this time we do it to ourselves. Maybe not so funny, huh?

So, despite the calls otherwise from the big-wigs in Hollywood and New York (who certainly see a "Funniest Career Videos" in the offing) I give to you the six obstacles to getting a job in the nonprofit world:

"I'm from the private sector and now I'm here to help." Right. THAT'S going to get you far. Your own attitude toward working in at a nonprofit ("I've been successful, now I'm here to save you") can dampen the enthusiasm of even your biggest flag waving fan on the nonprofit's staff. They've toiled in these conditions for a long while. Why do you think that you can parachute in and "fix" the nonprofit world?

Catch 22 - Want to feel like 22 again? Re-start your career at a non-profit! You'll have all the energy and enthusiasm of a 22 year old for your new work applied to a mission you love. But you'll have all the experience, too. Yes, it may feel like you're starting your career over again - with all the good and bad that come with it. Like in any work, there is a bias against hiring those who have not done the work before. At first you'll recall that old feeling "I need experience to get the job, but can't get the job without experience." Take heart. It's likely your experience is transferable, but it's up to you to find out how, and to show them.

It's a culture thing. Nonprofit personnel are probably more culturally sensitive than you are used to. Do I mean that they discriminate? Yes! Their bias is often against people from the private sector. They are somewhat better accepting of those from the government sector. As a former person in business, to many you represent the "evil empire." After all, those at the nonprofit have spent their careers caring about people, all you did is care about money, or so they think.

Want to take a cut in pay? It could happen. Whether it's because you are inexperienced in the specific work (see "Catch 22," above) or that the equivalent job simply does not pay as much, your salary could well go down. But will there be "quality of life" tradeoffs by working less hours? No. Okay, will there be quality of life tradeoffs by working for a mission you love. Definitely.

Don't be in a hurry. Nonprofits tend to be deliberative, cooperative and egalitarian - or at least profess to be. Why is this a problem? Because the hiring process can be slower and more inclusive of many persons in the organization. You will likely find the process frustrating. Rarely does just one or two persons have license to simply hire someone - even the CEO. Often the process will include volunteers. Patience, grasshopper.

But once the job is in hand, will it be nirvana? Sorry. I'd love to say it's true, but it's not. There will be office politics, and conflicts with colleagues, and bad travel days and long hours ? sound familiar? But what you get from working for a nonprofit is the dedication of you and your colleagues for a cause that is particularly meaningful. That's what gets you up in the morning. So while the friends you left are still toiling selling widgets for no other reason but to make the world a widget saturated place, and fill their pockets with widget made money, you'll have a part in treating patients with AIDS, educating children, saving wild horses and any number of thousands of other issues that you care deeply about.

If you soak in the above, I can't guarantee that you won't be featured on "Funniest Career Videos," but you will see how to avoid the some of the biggest mistakes and expectations when changing to a career in the non-profit world that could fit you better, and let you wake up a lot less sore in the morning!

Matt Hugg, president of FundraisingTransitions, uses his 20 years of charitable gift fundraising experience to help non-profit fundraisers, and those who aspire to be non-profit fundraisers, find the jobs they want at the organizations they love. He can be contacted at

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