When you break out the pros and cons list, working for the not-for-profit sector doesn’t look like the wisest career move. You can expect lower pay than both the private and public sector, and if you’re one of the 70% or so of women in the sector, you’re likely to be on significantly lower pay than men doing the same work as you. And even though charities are full to the brim with ladies, women are less likely to land a leadership position.
So if you’re bright and ambitious, working for a charity is more likely to be on your bucket list than in your current plans. With our student loan debt, saving the world is a luxury most of us can’t afford. Saving the world is something you can think about when you’ve reached the pinnacle of success—having enough money in the bank to not need to worry about whether you should pay your electricity bill or your credit card this week.
But low pay and career prospects aside, there are some real benefits from working in the not-for-profit sector. Firstly, since charities can’t attract you with high pay, they will often sweeten the deal with flexible hours—ideal if you want to prioritize other aspects of your life, like starting your own business (or that whole having kids thing!).
Charities can be also be great workplaces if doing the same thing day in and day out bores you to tears. You might be running an event one day and interviewing groups of teenagers the next. You can gain valuable experience in different aspects of running an organisation. Charities give you opportunities like seeing government lobbying in action, figuring out how to motivate teams of volunteers, and drilling down to what makes your charity stand out from the thousands of other charities people could donate to— all things that will develop your professional skills and look great on your CV.
And if you want to expand your worldview, charities are the place to be. Charities expose you to so many people you would never encounter otherwise. Last week, I shared afternoon tea with a woman working at our recovery centre who this time last year had nowhere to live and was in the midst of drug addiction. I played with children fluent in Tongan who attend our language immersion centre. I met a man who had gone from sleeping on the streets to working in our community café. It’s so humbling to meet people who have been handed a terrible lot in life, and seeing first-hand the work that people have put into turning their lives around.
I used to go home from work from my government job and wonder why I had spent so much time and effort writing a paper that would only be seen by a couple of people, and would ultimately be filed somewhere and forgotten about. But working for a charity, it feels like my work actually means something, and it makes me want to go the extra mile.
Don’t get me wrong—people who work for charities aren’t swanning around with haloes perched jauntily on our heads. Alas, we are human too. It can be difficult to keep the big picture in mind when you’re on the phone to someone who’s complaining that their house wasn’t cleaned to their standards, or you’re skipping your lunch break again because you have clients booked back-to-back all day. But what keeps you going is that you genuinely believe that your work is helping people.
I work for a charity because as cliché as it is, I want to make my small patch on Earth a little bit better for everyone. I want to live in a society where everyone’s life is valued—where being disabled, young, mentally ill, elderly, or poor doesn’t mean that your chances to live a full life are less than anyone else’s. I work for charity because I believe we only get one shot at life, and I want to make mine count.
My charity is a finalist for New Zealand’s Unsung Hero of the Year. You can help us win $10,000 for our foster children by voting for the superhero video I made (!!) for Lifewise here. Remember to scroll down and leave your name to make your vote count!
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