Working at non-profit organizations may have a less-than-desirable reputation among students, especially regarding pay and prestige; and while it may not look as glamorous as working in a corporate or government position at a high-rise, don’t overlook an entire industry that may give you the leverage to rise up in your career.
As someone who has exclusively performed co-op placements at non-profit organizations, it still stuns me when people don’t react with excitement or positivity in response to my work experience.
In fact, some people have made variations of these comments: “You would make such a good hire! Couldn’t you get a better job with more pay? Or “Why didn’t you go with a bigger company?”
Now, this curiosity is well-meaning and comes from good intentions, but it often comes off as a negative perspective towards working for the non-profit industry. There are plenty of benefits that exist in the non-profit sector, so I intend to set the record straight, focusing on my experiences in my second co-op placement as a Special Events Assistant at Junior Achievement of BC (JABC).
Work Towards Your Vision Of a Better World
I believe that everyone has a vision for what the ideal world looks like. There are several aspects of that world, but for most people, it is a perfect one that is far from the harsh realities that exist in our current world. Working in a non-profit organization is entirely focused on bringing at least one aspect of that world closer to being realized, through programs and services that serve those specific needs and problems. If you can identify specific societal gaps or needs that you feel should be addressed, there is a non-profit organization working towards addressing it.
If you are passionate about cancer research and finding a cure, there is a non-profit organization that aligns with that end goal. If you care about the economic, social and political status of all women, there is a non-profit organization for it. For as long as there is a societal need, there will be a non-profit organization to serve it.
For me, my choice to apply for a position at JABC stems from my experiences in high school, feeling as if my own education was lacking in the areas of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. Even if you took classes in accounting or entrepreneurship, the level of business education would possibly be very basic, taught out of a textbook and lacking opportunities to apply knowledge to real-world situations. Ultimately, teachers need to stick to a curriculum where tests and traditional evaluation tactics are difficult to apply in business education. This also differs per school, where schools with more resources may have greater access to programs offered which allows for these areas to be adequately served. Therefore, my choice to apply to JABC ultimately came from my own experience and aligned passion towards ensuring all students have access to practical hands-on education in order to empower them to better acclimate to the changing economy.
As a Special Events Assistant, I got to witness manifesting this vision into reality while supporting the team in executing TechWorks, an event focused on providing students in Grades 9 to 10 with an insight into the burgeoning tech industry in BC, focusing on bringing awareness to the diverse opportunities within the sector and the education required to partake in them. The ultimate goal is to address the talent shortage in B.C. and to equip people to fill future roles and jobs in the industry. At this event, I saw how students were able to learn from the dynamic speakers and take part in workshops provided by different company leaders in B.C.’s tech sphere, and ultimately see it in the student feedback on how this event helped them gain awareness and inspired them to explore possibilities in the tech industry.
Therefore, if you want to see the ultimate value in your work, non-profit organizations allow you to connect to what internally motivates you and help in bringing about an aspect of your ideal world to life.
Harness Your Skills
In a previous blog post on my previous co-op placement at Richmond Cares Richmond Gives, I touted the benefits of how a small non-profit team allows for better expansion of your skillset as you have more flexibility to take on new and different jobs in a supportive environment. I found this to be consistent with my work at JABC, where I was able to expand my skills in various areas. For example, I exercised my analytical skills and applied my BUS 336 course knowledge, reviewing survey feedback and compiling the data results for comparison on how well TechWorks fulfilled its learning objectives. I also learned more about copywriting by drafting the program report on TechWorks and creating the event manually to be transferred to other teams for its expansion into more regions of B.C.
Additionally, I’ve found that I have now specialized in what I can do best and contribute value to my team. For example, my previous student involvement in regard to event planning and corporate sponsorship gave me a foundation of skills that I was truly able to apply and grow exponentially at JABC. I learned more about the processes and operations of event planning, especially for events that are of a larger scale, an area I had very little experience in, only having planned workshops and smaller-scale student galas and conferences in the past. I was able to tour venues in preparation for events with the Special Events Manager and learned more about venue selection, contracts, and budget reconciliation. In addition, I am now able to utilize critical paths to manage and track event planning tasks, track the number of volunteers and where each person is assigned to be using a role & responsibilities event day breakdown and onboard volunteers on their roles by creating instructions and performing role orientations.
I also saw how I can combine multiple strengths into one possible role. After gaining exposure to fundraising while performing some administrative duties for the Director of Corporate Engagement and VP of Development, I found myself drawn to this new prospective career path. I learned about the processes of development and donor engagement from my colleagues in the development team. By participating in a lunch-and-learn on how persuasive writing plays a part in donor engagement and stewardship, I saw an opportunity to combine my previous sponsorship experience with my passion for writing, and aimed to assist where I can, by creating briefing notes for meetings with prospective donors, crafting donor stewardship material such as program reports and data charts, or arranging meetings for the CEO to make visits to important stakeholders.
Ultimately, a non-profit organization may be a perfect place to grow your capabilities in areas you are unfamiliar with, enhance your strengths or specialize in a field, given the predisposition for them to be flexible and supportive environments to learn in.
Employee Experience Over Money
There seems to be a common misconception on how the non-profit industry pays and rewards its employees. Compensation seems to be on most students’ minds when looking for roles, but I argue that there are certain aspects of your workplace on which you cannot place a price.
For example, as part of the JABC team, I get to work in a close-knit team with a great organizational culture that is friendly, welcoming to newcomers and allows for the recognition of each team member’s individual contributions. In the four months, I have been a part of the team, we have had staff potlucks, quarterly socials, and post-event celebrations. As part of the social committee, I help plan these opportunities to foster camaraderie and closeness within the team, which allows me to bond with each member on a topic beyond work. A certainly priceless personal moment was when my team celebrated my birthday in March with a cake and exchanged well wishes for me, with a birthday e-card sent to me.
I also noticed how much deeper your relationships can be with your colleagues. In my time, I found that my managers are more akin to mentors who I can talk to comfortably about their career paths and ask for guidance, instead of adhering to a strict hierarchal process. I have also developed close relationships with those outside of my team, which can be much more difficult in large organizations.
When I talk about my co-op placement with friends in detail, the consensus I’ve gained from them is that JABC seems to be a great place to work at. In addition to the intrinsic motivation of my value alignment with the organizational values, I found that I am more extrinsically motivated by the workplace environment, team culture and employee engagement over the monetary benefits. For reference, I am earning on the higher end of the co-op hourly pay range, but I’ve certainly found that the monetary value attached to my wage does not surpass the value of my employee experience with JABC.
If it is not obvious already, I have a soft spot for working with non-profit organizations. You may call me out on my bias, but I see them as organizations that can offer students much more than the face value of monetary compensation.
Consider working for a non-profit organization if you seek more value from your work, a flexible hierarchy, a supportive environment to grow and explore, and a friendly workplace and culture more akin to a family.
So, next time you are seeking a job, give non-profit organizations a try! This industry is often overlooked, which may improve your chances of getting hired and give you an incomparable employee experience.