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Switching to a Not-For-Profit Employer Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: I've been looking at changing jobs recently and I am wondering if maybe I should leave the private sector and get a job in a not-for-profit. Some of my friends already work in small agencies and they tell me that the pace is slower, the people are friendlier, and at the end of the day they feel good because the work they do makes a difference. Do you think it's a good idea for me to make this sort of change? Right now I'm a financial manager at a large life insurance company.

Pierre F., Quebec City, Quebec
Dear Pierre,

The not-for-profit (NFP) sector is a great place to work for those who want to feel that they are making a difference. It is a huge industry here in Canada . Organizations range from the large and well-known, such as the Canadian Cancer Society, Salvation Army, UJA, and YMCA, to all sorts of smaller associations, agencies and services.

Most depend on some mixture of government funding, grants from foundations, and donations from the public for their livelihood. In recent years the sector has become more competitive. This is primarily due to reduced government support, donor fatigue, increased operating costs, and the proliferation of NFP's vying for funds.

Let's jump, then, to your point about it being slower paced than the private sector. This could be true if you are working for a sleepy agency that is well funded and long established, where doing what they've always been doing works well, and there is little need to hustle. However those types of places are getting harder to find these days.

Many NFP's have discovered, sometimes painfully, that the only route to survival is to ''professionalize'' themselves: that is, to pick up the pace, adopt leading edge marketing strategies, and behave more like...well, a company in the private sector where you sink or swim based on how well you meet the needs of your target audience and bring in more and more revenue. And keep your costs down -- which brings up the important point that salaries tend to be lower in NFP's than in the private sector.

So are the people friendlier? It could be, depending where you work. That's because folks who choose to work in NFP's -- at least in the past -- have tended to be drawn to the goodness of the work, as well as the less frantic, more collegial atmosphere than you might expect to find in profit-driven organizations.

But again, things are changing, so its caveat emptor in terms of making your decision to leave the private sector for a job in what you're hoping is a friendlier, more relaxed place of work. If, on the other hand, your primary motivation is to use your talents and skills to help an organization whose raison d'etre is to assist others, then there's no better place than an NFP for employment that rewards you - while you give back to the community.

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