We have all heard that in today’s job market: “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know.” When I was looking for jobs in the not-for-profit sector this, and the presumption I wasn’t going to make a lot of money, was constantly repeated to me.
I quickly realized that because I did not know any people in the non-for-profit sector I had to rely on my previous experiences and skills. My only option was to prove myself. When I was applying for jobs in the non-profit area, one thing that really stood out for employers was my previous volunteer experience and involvement in the community when I was at the University of Essex. I was Project Leader for a V-Team project, a Student Ambassador, a Student Representative on the Disciplinary Panel and was on the Executive Committee of multiple societies. Not only did I make a conscious effort to be part of the university community, I volunteered in the Colchester community, as well. These were invaluable experiences and were what helped me get a job in the non-profit sector.
The other aspect that helped me land a job in the sector was finding something that I was passionate about. My biggest passion is helping children and making sure they are safe and, luckily, I found a non-profit which does just that.
To succeed in the non-profit sector, you have to be passionate about the work you are doing. The pay is not the same as a for profit company, so you have to really care about what you are doing. You also have to be flexible and be willing to do any task. It is not uncommon for me to work 60 hours a week, work weekends and work until late at night. Similarly, you cannot be particular or snobby about the work you are willing to do. There are days where I have to take the trash out and vacuum because in the non-profit world everyone does every job since every penny counts.
Nevertheless, working in the non-profit sector is one of the most rewarding things you can ever possibly do. I know that every day I am working to make sure that abused and neglected children have a safe and permanent home. The stories I hear from how my organization helps children makes every challenging day worth it.
Another really rewarding aspect of working in a non-profit is that you gain many skills. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would be working on budgets or be responsible for the financial stability of an organization, but these are all skills that I have gained through my role. Additionally, you get to meet and interact with so many different people. On a daily basis, I work with politicians, attorneys, judges, volunteers, children and community members. No one day is ever the same.
It’s not all peaches and cream, there are challenges to working in the non-profit sector. I can never leave work at work. My staff, my volunteers, my board members and community partners all have my personal phone number. I cannot go on vacation and leave work behind. Work follows me wherever I go. I visited England in December and still had to work from across the world. The pay is not what it would be if you worked in a corporation. Most of the time, non-profits are underfunded which effects those working in them. For me, however, taking a lower pay is worth it if I know I am working to help those who most need it and make my community a little better.
The statement, “it’s who you know and not what you know”, is not accurate. I knew no one in the non-profit sector and I am now running a non-profit. If you want to work in non-profits you will have to work with volunteers. You need to know what it is like to volunteer and give your time. Therefore, my advice to you is get involved in the community you are in. Do something! Those experiences and leadership roles will be immensely valuable in the long run, not just because you’ll get a job, but because you’ll be giving back.
Make the most of the volunteering opportunities on campus, and get involved with the V-Team and Big Essex Award.