1 min Read
May 18, 2015

The critical ways working with nonprofits is really different

Perhaps it’s disillusionment, or the desire to be a part of something that’s more personally meaningful? Whatever the reason, people seem to be abandoning the corporate sector more and more in order to work in or consult with nonprofits.

We Ducks increasingly encounter professionals who are learning the ropes of the nonprofit sector on the job. Personally, I’m excited to see more people rolling up their sleeves and doing socially conscious work–but diving into new areas often presents new challenges.

If you’re newer to the nonprofit sector, here are three critical ways nonprofits are surprisingly different.

1. Buy-in means everything. In many for-profits, there’s a small group of decision-makers. Nonprofits, by contrast, often engage staff and board in working groups or committees, solicit feedback, and even adopt consensus models.  Early on in any project, make a point to find out who needs to be involved, when, and how.

2. Audiences are deeply diverse. Most nonprofits have to keep the interests of extremely varied stakeholders in mind with every project. The people a nonprofit serves (its clients) are often entirely separate from those that support its work (officials, foundations, donors, and corporations). A nonprofit’s board, staff, and peers will often add perspectives that should be considered too. In the for-profit world where a specific target audience is usually identified and prioritized, these diverse audiences can be hard to engage fully, but are critical to account for.

3. Big or small, everyone’s scrappy. Few nonprofit organizations budget for expenses the same way for-profits do—even the big guys. That means projects may have no budget allocated for expenses such as conducting research, media buying, travel, or other items that might be typical line-items in a for-profit context.   

If you’re looking to make the switch into the nonprofit sector or plan to work more deeply with nonprofits in the future, my webinar on July 16 will dig deeper into these topics: I’ll share ways to structure getting buy-in, explain how to map nonprofit stakeholder audiences, and other tips and tricks. Details are online here. I hope the webinar will save you or someone you love some serious time and help you do more successful work.