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7 Things to Know Before You Pursue a Career in Nonprofits

You want to use your education and experience to make a difference in the world. You're not concerned with earning lots of money, but you want to feel excited to go to work every day.

If this describes you, you may be considering a career in nonprofits. Here are some things to know as you get started.

1. The Term "Nonprofit" Covers a Wide Variety of Institutions.

Nonprofits are organizations whose goal is achieving positive change in a community, not turning a profit. They can be any size and can rely on volunteers, staff or a combination of the two. Would you prefer to work for a larger nonprofit like the American Red Cross or a smaller local organization like Community Women Against Hardship?

2. The Best Way to Get Started is to Volunteer.

Volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience and build connections in the nonprofit world. Unlike a job or an internship, the barrier to entry in volunteer situations is typically low. The flexibility of volunteering also allows you to try out different types of service to find out what you enjoy most.

3. You Should Share Your Organization's Vision.

Unlike a business, a nonprofit's overarching goal will depend not on profit margins but on achieving a particular outcome in the community it serves. If you don't fully support the achievement of this outcome, it can cause problems both for you and for the organization. Before you accept a job at a particular nonprofit, make sure to read through their mission or vision statement and core values first.

4. Be Creative.

One of the most exciting aspects of working in the nonprofit sector is the opportunity to be creative. Problem solving is an important skill in any organization, and it is especially valuable in nonprofits where things tend to change quickly and often. If you show initiative and good judgment, you could be given free rein over your own projects much earlier than you would in traditional employment contexts.

5. You'll Probably Wear Several Hats.

Anyone who has been even remotely involved with nonprofits knows this to be true. Because of limited budgets, staff and volunteers often find themselves regularly involved in work that falls outside the bounds of their job description. A general "just do what needs to be done" attitude is present in most nonprofit organizations. It will keep you on your toes, but it will also allow you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the organization as a whole.

6. Prioritize Maintaining a Healthy Work/Life Balance From the Start.

Because of limited resources and high demands, it's easy to let this kind of work consume you. If you're part of an organization that you really love and are doing work that you believe will make a difference in people's lives, it can be even harder to take a step back. This is why it is vital to create boundaries for yourself before you start. Burnout and high turnover rates are some of the nonprofit sector's greatest challenges, and you can avoid them by practicing self care and having a healthy work/life balance.

7. Learn to Live on a Budget.

Generally speaking, people who work in nonprofits don't make as much money as people who work in the corporate world. Living on a budget doesn't have to be a drag, though, and there are still plenty of ways to spend time with friends, travel and have fun if you budget well.

As with any industry, working in nonprofits has its rewards and its challenges. If you're considering a career in the nonprofit sector, keeping these seven things in mind can help you make the best decision for your own goals and interests.