Working for a Good Cause

It happened again. The mayor who welcomed and introduced our team of presenters assumed the majority of those in attendance at the workshop were volunteers because they represented non-profit organizations and were interested in our topic of community building. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am extraordinarily respectful of volunteers.  I come from a long line of them and have done a lot of volunteering myself over the years.  However, I found myself bristling when yet another, albeit good meaning, individual assumed the non-profit sector was only about volunteers when in fact the majority of those in the audience were paid staff.

While it’s true some non-profits are powered largely by volunteers or under-paid workers fueled by their passion and dedication to a specific cause, many organizations simply don’t fit that description. Salaries may be lower, but not always, and the benefits are often far better than those in the corporate sector.

Canada’s non-profit sector makes a powerful and growing contribution to our communities and to our economy having recently passed the vital $100 billion mark. The full non-profit sector (including hospitals and universities) amounts to 7% of the overall economy. The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada show that the non-profit sector is ten times larger in the Canadian economy than motor vehicle manufacturing, and bigger than retail trade or the mining/oil/gas extraction sectors. Within the overall non-profit sector, the social services, health and housing components alone make an $18 billion contribution to the GDP. And, as I wanted to point out to the mayor, most of the non-profit sector’s economic activity is poured into paid work – $86.9 billion in 2007.

For sure the mayor was correct in acknowledging the important role of non-profits and volunteers in contributing to community building and leadership but he sort of missed, and therefore accidently dissed, the keen and dedicated paid staff.

So what keeps these often overlooked paid staff within the non-profit sector? Why would anyone for that matter want to work for a non-profit organization? 
There are some very good reasons.

It’s definitely a place to grow and learn. Working for a non-profit typically means more flexibility in one’s job description and in the opportunities to stretch. In our organization a job turnover often means there is a chance to reorganize and redesign to accommodate the interests of those who might be interested in a new challenge. Non-profits are fabulous learning environments for young employees or those seeking a career change as it’s typical to wear many hats and become involved in a variety of activities. As well there is the opportunity to make great contacts and develop strong community networks.

Non-profits also generally provide a positive work environment as they tend to look out for individuals and families more than the average business or government organization.  While wages are not always competitive, they are often offset by generous vacation time, sick days, and flexible schedules.

Most importantly, working for a non-profit means you get to work for a good cause, feel passionate about what they’re doing and make the world, or a least a corner of the world, a better place. 

Posted on 01-24-10

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