Keen to give back to your community? Want to feel more fulfilled in your work? How about switching to a not for profit organisation? It will change your life!
Christmas and its lead up are the really busy times of the year for charity workers. One of the most important tasks is encouraging “those who can” to dig deep and to share the Christmas spirit with less fortunate community members, not to mention making sure that Christmas goodies are distributed to those that need them the most. So what does it take to work in the not-for-profit sector and do you have the drive to succeed there?
What’s out there?
Firstly, let us take a quick tour of those not-for-profit organisations with a presence on the net. Even a cursory search reveals a cross-section of charities. They range from the Starlight Children’s Foundation whose glamorous fundraising events help to make wishes come true for terminally ill children, to Westnet, an online facility for community organisations that includes an intranet to serve the socially disadvantaged across Western Sydney and Central Western NSW.
So, who are the people who work in these organisations? Most private industry employees cite the salary, fringe benefits and the prospect of being able to earn a bonus as reasons to go to work, but this is generally not the case in the not-for-profit sector. Jillianne Weekes, CEO of Starlight Children’s Foundation explains: “People are working in the not-for profit sector for reasons other than money. Certainly you are not working here if you want to make a fortune.”
Her sentiments are echoed across not-for-profit organisations. Take for example, the salary structure of a social worker employed at Centacare, the welfare arm of the Catholic Church in Australia. According to Elisabeth Pattison, Acting Team Leader Foster Care, of Centacare Newcastle, their salary is directed linked to a standard Award developed in conjunction with their professional association.
While the revenue generating abilities of most private sector employees can be rewarded by various incentive and bonus schemes it is unlikely that remuneration increases in the not-for-profit sector are directly linked to increases in funds raised or to superior work performance.
Because many organisations in the not-for-profit sector depend to a large extent upon donations from the general public, it is essential that the money allocated to operating expenses (eg salary and wages, expenses, administration etc) be carefully managed. All the internal accounting processes must be absolutely transparent and capable of complying with the most detailed audit. For the employees, this means long lunches or overseas trips courtesy of the company expense account, are out of the question.
Given that the purse strings are so tightly controlled why is it so many talented people choose to work in the not-for-profit sector? A common theme among this employee group is that they genuinely believe in the cause or the group that they serve and are confident that they can make a real, positive difference in the lives of others. Be careful not to confuse these high ideals with an overly benign interpretation of the world the not-for-profit sector is founded upon the abilities of the staff to apply business principles, particularly when it comes to fund raising.
“Starlight Children’s Foundation has developed a range of strategic business objectives that relate not only to fundraising, but also to the quality and service aspects of our program,” says Jillianne Weekes. “Being the CEO of this organisation is pretty much like running a business, except that there are more facets. The perspectives of the families who are understandably experiencing severe stress, the employees and the volunteers must all be considered.”
Not surprisingly, this combination of practicality and altruism tends to attract a larger number of women than men to employment in the not-for-profit sector. There can be tangible benefits to employment in an industry that is dominated by women, including increased opportunities for flexible working hours, job-sharing and innovative approaches to work-based child-care. As Elisabeth Pattison notes: “Employers in the not-for profit sector tend to be very approachable in terms of flexible working hours and job-sharing. We have a couple of people working here in a job-sharing arrangement and our roles are very suitable for working women who have a family.”
At times, however, a lack of funds can also have the opposite effect. “While we do have one staff member working from home, as a charity we are under resourced and are probably less flexible than other organisations,” comments Jillianne Weekes.
How do I get in?
The strategies used to gain employment in the not-for-profit sector differ from those used in the corporate world. Unless you are applying for a very senior position, it is most unlikely that a recruitment agency will be involved in the selection process. You are more likely to see your dream job advertised in the back section of the newspaper, in the organisation’s own publication or newsletter, or in an appropriate industry-publication.
While many groups do have a web site, very few offer an online employment section. The not-for-profit sector “grapevine” is alive and well so it may be worthwhile to undertake some volunteer work in the organisation of your choice if you are aiming for a paid job. You will, in most instances, be required to make a written application, including a covering letter, a copy of your CV, as well as details about how closely your skills, knowledge and attributes match the selection criteria for the role.
At times, the pay and the conditions may be frustrating and it certainly would not be the ideal job for everyone. However working in the not-for-profit sector offers employees the intrinsic rewards that many who are set on chasing a dollar tend to miss out on. Combined with the knowledge that you are being of genuine assistance to those in need provides all the reasons that many not-for-profit sector employees require to keep going.
Charities on the Internet
The InfoXchange http://infoxchange.net.au/ix/
A Victorian based community information network that contains details about an estimated 30 000 community support agencies and services. The site contains an employment section, advertising some of the jobs available in Victorian not-for-profit organisations.
Online information about the community service sector in NSW, including a Positions Vacant page. A brief description of each job and the Employer contact details is presented on the employment noticeboard.
ACOSS Australian Council of Social Service http://www.acoss.org.au
The peak council of Australia’s community welfare sector, ACOSS links approximately 11 000 Community organisations nationally. The site contains a wealth of information, including links to a variety of national and international community sector groups, research information, government and social policy sites.
Starlight Children’s Foundation Australia http://www.starlight.org.au
Starlight supports seriously ill children via a range of programs, including wish granting, hospital-based entertainment and recreation rooms. Starlight Volunteers receive extensive training and details of how you can be involved are available at the web site.