Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do You Have What it Takes to Work in a Non-Profit?


As I've watched the disasters in Haiti and Chile, I've been inspired by the hundreds of non-profit organizations that have poured into those areas, ready and willing to help. At the same time, I'm aware enough of my limitations to know that I'd have a hard time coping with the devastation on any long-term basis if I was called to work there. It got me thinking about what it takes to work for a non-profit, and how many people find out it's not the right job fit for them. That led to this column for Gannett:

The poor job market has led many job seekers to be creative, seeking work in fields they may not have explored before. But for those who believe moving from a for-profit arena into the non-profit world may give them more options, the transition may not be that easy.

“I think many non-profits are using more management techniques found in the business world, but I wouldn’t suggest a job seeker sit down and say to a non-profit organization: ‘Listen, I can help your non-profit run more like a business.’ There’s a good chance you might offend them saying something like that,” says Heather Krasna, director of career services at Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.

That’s because non-profits often focus on the “cause” of their organization, putting less emphasis on the bottom line. That’s one of the reasons that moving into the non-profit world may not be the best career move for everyone.

Kisha DeSandies, who works as a communications manager for a non-profit association in Alexandria, Va., says that while non-profits are more team-oriented and focused on a common purpose, there’s often not enough staff – or money – to get all the work done. Many non-profits find themselves equally hard hit by the recession, she says.

“When the economy is in trouble, you lose members (of the organization). When you lose members, you lose money. You lose money, you lose jobs,” DeSandies says. “I’ve heard of other associations that just aren’t doing well.”

DeSandies, who has worked in the for-profit world as well, says non-profits often are not as strongly managed financially, and mismanagement by boards can lead to overspending and poor organizational planning. That’s a recipe, she says, that can bother many workers.

“I think every job has its issues, but not having structure and accountability can be a downside of non-profit work. It can be sort of like a dysfunctional family. The place can eventually implode,” she says.

Before choosing to apply to a non-profit, Krasna suggests checking out the group’s mission and seeing if you are truly interested in their goals. Further, many non-profits can’t offer as much in salary, but other benefits may balance that out for many job seekers.

For example, DeSandies says that her non-profit work often has allowed her more independence with less management oversight. She says she’s also been given the chance to take on tasks that interest her, since non-profits often foster a culture of teamwork and pitching in where needed since resources are often limited. “I’m more of a free spirit, so nonprofits are a good fit for me,” she says.

Krasna points out that working for a non-profit organization shouldn’t be discounted just because salaries are sometimes lower. Non-profits such as hospitals are competitive on pay, and many executive positions are filled by MBAs or others with business-world experience. As more donors and fundraisers ask for more specific accounting of their contributions, non-profits are interested in those who understand for-profit realities – with a healthy dose of altruism thrown in.

Krasna, author of the upcoming “Jobs That Matter: Fin a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service,” (JIST, $14.95) says those seeking a job with a nonprofit should:

  • Do the homework. Check out the organization’s mission and culture through the organization’s literature or online site. Also, look at the group’s tax forms found on www. guidestar.org to gauge the group’s financial health.
  • Volunteer. “This is really one of the best ways to check out what an organization is really like,” she says. “And, it’s going to be important to any non-profit to see that you’ve done some volunteer work somewhere. It’s something you should highlight in your resume and cover letter.”
  • Values. Do a gut check and determine the causes you feel strongly about. If you can’t commit yourself to the organization’s mission, the job won’t be a good fit.
Do you think you could work in a non-profit? Why or why not?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Any Job Worth a Bad Boss?


When there are stressful times in the workplace, you can bet it's going to bring out the best in a lot of people -- and the worst.

Unfortunately, job seekers may not discover which category a boss falls into until it's too late.

For example, good bosses will understand that the continuing tough economic news means they need to rally the troops, to stick close to employees and make sure employees see they are calm in the face of bad economic news, determined to keep doing the best possible job. They make sure their door is always open to listen to worker concerns, and even spring for a pizza every once in a while just to help lighten the mood.

And then there are the bosses that crack under the strain. They hole up in their offices, the door tightly closed. When they do emerge, they are uncommunicative with workers, except to criticize or be short-tempered. They may be sarcastic, rude, insulting and thoughtless. Employees become tightly wired and depressed, alternately sniping with one another or lapsing into brooding silences.

Enter the hapless job seeker. With shiny shoes, a bright smile and firm handshake, the job candidate enters the door of a company, hopeful that in this crappy job market, he or she may land a job.

Many are desperate. They try not to let that show (a definite no-no in the job search world), but they know their current company is sinking fast, their industry on the rocks, their job security a thing of the past. They need another job, and they need it now.

So, they may be willing to overlook a few things they would not have in the past, when job seekers had the upper hand in a thriving economy. Now, with rising unemployment, they don't care about the long commute, the less-than-generous benefits, the lack of stock options. In other words, they are willing to overlook a lot of the frayed edges if it just means they can keep a paycheck coming in.

Understandable. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there is one area that may bear closer scrutiny: the boss.

As anyone who has had a bad boss knows, a rotten manager can affect you in ways you never dreamed. You can't sleep. You can't eat -- or overeat. You yell at your kids or partner when you get home, you develop bad headaches and stomach pains. You feel like you've aged 10 years overnight and secretly envision the boss getting hit by a bus. (Not killed of course, just in the hospital for the next five years.)

That's why it's still important that while you may be willing to settle on a lot of things when you go for a job these days, don't settle for a bad boss. And here's a bit of good news: The bad bosses are being exposed as never before. It's going to be easier to learn who is a lousy manager simply because he or she is cracking under the strain.

Here's some ways to find out a boss's true colors:

* Ask to speak to other employees. Sometimes you will not always be given this opportunity, and other times, the workers may not be truthful because they fear for their own jobs. Ask questions such as: "What has been your favorite assignment and why?" "What gives you the greatest satisfaction working here?" "What three words would you use to describe your boss?"
* Find the favorite watering hole. This may be a neighborhood pub, or a lunch spot where employees hang out. It may even be a nearby park. The idea is to strike up a conversation away from the eyes and ears of the boss so that you can get an employee to open up about the true management style of the boss.
* Be objective. Just because one employee trashes the manager doesn't mean the boss is terrible. It could be that this person doesn't get along with anyone. Try and talk to several employees so that you can get a real feel for what's going on.
* Don't think you're special. I'm always amazed by job candidates who take a position knowing the boss is an ass. They always think they can find a way to get along with the manager, that they somehow possess special powers to overcome a bully boss. Not so. If the boss is a jerk to the majority of workers, chances are you're going to experience the exact same thing.

What are some other ways to spot a bad manager?


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