Myths about working in non-profit

Hali with Melody, an Accessible Housing resident.
Hali with Melody, an Accessible Housing resident.

By Hali, staff member at Accessible Housing

When I graduated from university a few years back, I eagerly joined the rest of my classmates in the pursuit of finding a “real job”. Not knowing much about what was available in Calgary at the time, I consulted just about everyone I knew on what jobs to apply for, what information to include in my resume and what sector would be best – corporate or non-profit.

When I asked respected mentors what their perspectives were on working in the non-profit versus for-profit sector, I consistently heard the same thing: working in non-profit will limit your career potential. In fact, the most common piece of advice I received went something like this:

“Land a corporate job, make money, climb the ladder and build your resume; when it comes to charity work, volunteer your time or donate to a cause you care about.”

I listened intently and heeded people’s advice on the topic, but it wasn’t until later that I realized how problematic this widespread misperception of the non-profit industry really is. Why would new grads want to work in the non-profit sector when they are told:

  • Human services and charity work are not worth dedicating your time to.
  • Helping others should be something you do on the side, as a hobby.
  • If you navigate to a career in non-profit you are doomed to a life of low wages and limited career advancement.
  • Work outside of the corporate world is of little value.

It is this language and lack of understanding that is deterring graduates from investing their talents in important causes. At the same time, these words perpetuate the myth that non-profits shouldn’t invest in their employees in an effort to recruit and retain good talent.

Non-profit organizations are pressured to maintain low overhead and shamed for putting some of their resources toward competitive wages, improving total compensation packages and enhancing work-life balance. And new grads are reluctant to move into a sector where these types of investments are not common practice. Worse still, those who choose to work in this area are often considered not to value their earning potential as much as the rest of the working world.

But I’m here to set the record straight. As someone who works for a non-profit, I can tell you that the people in this sector value financial security and providing for our families as much as the next person. We simply have the desire to spend our working hours giving back to the community helping the people, animals and social causes that most need our help.

Right now there are thousands of new grads waiting to share their talents with the world. They hope to contribute their skills to meaningful and rewarding projects. As a community, we need to be more conscious about the messages we are sending to these new graduates and refrain from shaming non-profits for investing in the very people who have the passion and talents to create solutions that will help some of the most marginalized populations in our society.