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Thread: What was your experience working for a non-profit?

  1. #1
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    What was your experience working for a non-profit?

    Oh hey there Cyburbia,

    I recently interviewed for a non-profit organization dedicated to affordable housing. in my short career, I have only worked in the private industry for consulting and development firms. Sincea lot of our clients are in the public industry, I have an understanding of what working for a local municipality would entail.

    But I can't imagine what working for a non-profit would be like. I understand that it would be working for a cause, in this case providing affordable housing, but don't have a clue as to the details.

    Has anyone worked for a nonprofit here? If so, was your experience positive or negative?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I don't think Lee Nellis posts here anymore and I don't think he worked for a non-profit directly. I think he did consulting work and sometimes worked for non-profits that way. He sometimes talked about that. Maybe doing a search for some of his old posts would help cast light on the topic. (Though I tried to pull up an example and couldn't figure out what specifically to search on to do so. Sorry.)

    It's the best I can do. I've done lots of volunteer work but haven't had a paid job with a non-profit and haven't worked in planning.

    Crossing my fingers that someone else has a better answer for you.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    My non-profit experience was that while the people/board I worked with were generally good, I was severely underpaid and we were held back from doing much by a lack of adequate funding. I spent much of my time writing grants.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Montannie's avatar
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    I think it depends on the non-profit and how big and well-funded they are. There definitely are those where you are scrambling year round to try to find more money, and those that are pretty solid institutions that are confident in their funding. I agree that working for one that is under-funded could be really stressful but I have worked for one that was very well-funded and my job was pretty secure (as secure as anywhere else), the pay was good, and the company worked a lot like a private firm. I had to keep track of what hours I was working towards which projects so that the money could be allocated properly, it was very goal- and project-oriented, etc.

    One thing about working for non-profits that can be frustrating is what the leadership is like on top - if there is a strong-minded executive director with a weak board, the non-profit can become fairly unbalanced and directionally questionable unless the exec is amazing. On the other hand, a really strong board and a weak exec can lead to a board which is constantly at odds with each other and it becomes difficult to find a solid direction. Not that either of these situations are the only way that a non-profit can go, just things to keep in mind i guess...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Non-profit work is in general a very rewarding, albeit underpaid, experience. Hopefully your position is not dependent on your ability to obtain funding.

  6. #6
    My nonprofit experience ranges from low level staff to executive director to now being chair of the board of one.

    As the others say, the low pay is a drawback, and the problems with funding can be critical. But they are some of the most rewarding jobs around.

  7. #7
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    Thank you everyone for your input. For those that have worked or volunteered at a non-profit, did you ever feel that your profession became too specialized to the cause? Did you leave because you wanted to work on more broad profession?

    I'm a little worried that working for an affordable housing non-profit, that I will focus so much on affordable housing that within the next four years I'll go insane from MFI requirements and tax credits.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I worked at a CDC... was a project manager for affordable housing development. I loved the work. As others have said, if you get a situation where it's the executive director versus the board, it can turn into an organizational civil war (this actually happened where I worked and was not pretty). The work is indeed rewarding because you actually get to see bricks and mortar development happen as a result of your efforts. I would say, however, that now is probably not the time to be in the community development field as the funders have all scaled their grant awards way back as of late and the LIHTC yields are terrible these days. The pay isn't necessarily low - I'd say it depends on the org. but it is on par with what you'd see in the public sector.

    I would certainly return to the CDC world if the right opportunity came up - the work atmosphere was much cooler than government and it was great to go to work every day feeling like you were an a mission.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I work at a non-profit now and have worked for various others for most of my professional career. Non-profits definitely face certain organizational challenges that may not be as pronounced at for-profit or municipal workplaces (though in this economy...). In my experience, I think about there being at least two tiers of non-profits. There are the higher-level, well-funded and usually national or international organizations that are more corporate in their work culture and, from a day-to-day standpoint, feel much like a for-profit enterprise (I'm talking about places like Habitat for Humanity, AFSC, United Way, etc.). Reporting, time tracking, cubicles, etc. are all the norm and bureaucraticy is big.

    The other level is more grassroots. These are often local, funding may be limited or at least a great deal is dedicated to programming/activities such that covering staff costs can be challenging. It also means that many staff members are involved in a wider range of duties and even executive level positions get their hands dirty with the detail work when necessary. In my experience, more of the staff has more of a say in major decision making in these settings as well (smaller staffs doing more requires they work as a tighter unit). Here, I am thinking of places like CDCs (they may deal with large amounts of money if they are constructing housing, but the funds available for salaries and other operational aspects are often limited), arts non-profits, organizing groups, community development groups, etc.

    In many ways I find non-profit work more challenging in certain respects than other settings, but also more rewarding (I, for example, like that I do a wide range of work when necessary - it keeps things fresh). Often the investment in relationships with individuals, constituencies or communities is much more intense and, some argue, longer lasting than as a municipality or for-profit. I'm not knocking the work of these other sectors, though - each plays an important role in the larger picture and they are mostly complimentary. By nature, non-profits are often filling gaps in what is provided via these other avenues, however. Often these are outside of what is deemed government responsibility and in areas that are not particularly profitable, but still need to get done (thus no businesses filling those niches). Affordable housing, economic development/job skills training, advocacy for underrepresented interests (communities, environment, homeless, etc.)

    Planning-wise (in the broadest sense of the term) I think there is a lot of exciting non-profit work.

    What everyone says about the salaries is true, though. One of the things I lament as I get older is a lack of a clear track of advancement that applies across organizations. This makes it difficult to move up and cross from one organization to another while maintaining your income level. With kids and a mortgage, I see the security in knowing that you are moving up and can expect a certain range of salary in the future. It helps with responsible planning. If you are lucky enough to get to a higher executive level (another challenge in some areas as there are few positions and many well-qualified candidates) than the salary can often be higher and more on par with other sectors.

    Good luck!!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  10. #10
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    First time posting on Cyburbia-- hi everyone. I'm glad to have found this thread because I just recently interviewed for a planning position at non-profit CDC. This organization is great and well-funded, and I would love to work there if they would have me.

    I'm curious to know whether non-profit planning salaries are significantly lower or on par with public sector planning salaries-- especially in the Bay Area. I've done some preliminary research on salary ranges via payscale.com and www.planning.org/salary, but would appreciate if someone could offer some advice on a salary range for an entry-level position in non-profit that comes with an inflated title (Senior Planner). I'm not sure to search for years of experience vs. title.

    Also a quick question for public sector salaries: is it typical to make the salary as listed on the job description? So if the biweekly salary range is $4k-$6k for example, is this the minimum that one could expect?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    KangaroosRules- I think your experience will greatly depend on specifically what your job function is and your non-profits business model. I work as an affordbale housing developer and would be more than willing to touch abse about it, if you want to PM me. . . .

    One of the things that you should realize is that the affordable housing universe is in rough shape right now due to the collapse of the LIHTC market. Not unlike private sector developers many non-profits got caught holding land they are now having trouble devleoping. When evaluating your potential employer I would definately look at their financials.

    Blueirises- I would expect the mimimum to be $4k. . . the maximum may be higher.

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