Two-Year Nonprofit Anniversary

Today I’m celebrating my second anniversary of working a real job in a nonprofit!

Balloons, Photo by Ric e Ette
Balloons, Photo by Ric e Ette

Here are the top 5 things about my experience that surprised me:

  1. How easy it would be to put in ludicrously long hours.
  2. That relatively little changed as a result of my ludicrously long hours.
  3. How readily colleagues accepted and relied on my “technology” prowess.
  4. That I would be part of such a close-knit team.
  5. That I would be so frustrated by so many things.

Based on those surprises, here is some unsolicited advice I have for people getting started:

  1. You need to watch out for yourself when it comes to work load, hours, vacation, etc.  Yes, we work for the benefit of others, but it is still okay to advocate for yourself.  You cannot help others effectively if you are burned out.  If you do not draw the line, you will burn out.  The line can be drawn reasonably, tactfully, and respectfully.
  2. Organizations and work flows change slowly.  New systems take time to design well and additional time to implement and reinforce.  They are worth this investment.  Pursue change, but understand that it’s not just a quick sprint down the lane, and pace yourself accordingly.
  3. I advise you to be careful about what you take on.  If there isn’t room for it in your work plan, there isn’t room for it on your list of responsibilities or in your schedule.  That being said, also understand that sometimes, things just need to get done.  It’s a tough balance.  Be in good communication with your supervisor, and see advice item #1.
  4. Value your team.  Be sure to tell your team that you value them and tell them why.  Mean it, or don’t say anything.  Harness the power of gossip for good – tell other people how awesome your team is and why.
  5. Nonprofits are noble and support causes etc. etc., but they’re jobs, organizations, offices, etc. like every other place of work.  They are not immune to annoyances, challenges, surprises, and other such typical work-related frustrations.  Communication, the major challenge of all organizations, is not magically solved in nonprofit land.  Work through it, and see advice item #2.  It is worth being patient and persistent.

What do you have to say to nonprofit newbies?  Do nonprofit newbies have any questions to ask?

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