Career Resources

The world of not-for-profits

The world of not-for-profits

By The Good Jobs Team, 20 Feb 2017

The social sector

If you want to work in the not-for-profit sector, you haven't narrowed it down much. Australian not-for-profits employ nearly a million people. To put that in perspective, it's more than the total population of Fiji, Bhutan, Malta, the Bahamas or Kiribati. It's as many people as the combined population of Dominica, Andorra, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Greenland, Saint Kitts and Nevis, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Faroe Islands, Sint Maarten, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Turks and Caicos Islands, Gibraltar, San Marino, the British Virgin Islands, the Caribbean Netherlands, Palau, the Cook Islands, Anguilla, Wallis and Futuna, Nauru, Tuvalu, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Montserrat, Saint Helena, the Falkland Islands, Niue and Tokelau.

That's quite a list. Icy and hot, Asia and Oceania, mountains and sea, republics and monarchies, it covers all kinds.

There are some analogies to be drawn between small countries and not-for-profits, mind you. If you wanted a situation where people were going to let you do the job flexibly with anything that came to hand rather than insisting you followed the rulebook, you'd probably be happy in the Faroes - or an autism association in Caulfield. If you wanted a job where you could see the work of your hands having a direct effect on the welfare of real people, you could probably get a good shot at that in Tuvalu - or in a refugee advocacy service in Fortitude Valley. If all you wanted was a massive salary, you probably wouldn't start with a company in Niue - or a kindergarten co-operative in Ryde.

Many of those places are holiday destinations, places you'd be happy to spend a bit of time in, without necessarily wanting to take out citizenship. The volunteer sector, likewise, doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment; you can, if you want to, move nimbly between public good and private accumulation, God and Mammon, taking what you need from each and using the contrast to sharpen your concepts of what you're good at and what you're looking for out of life.

With all those countries, too, you'll probably find that when you get to know them close up you'll have to modify your first romantic ideas of what they're all about. When you get behind the posters and the commercials and the tour guides and meet the people who work there, they'll show you the seamy underside and the parts the tourists don't see. After that, if you're able to adjust, you can come to see why they love the place. And it's the same with NFPs.

Both small nations and NFPs, moreover, come with a warning: the locals don't necessarily appreciate people coming in and thinking that their good intentions mean they know everything and should be welcomed as saviours. It's important to show a little humility, to listen and learn. There are local politics, local history, and pervasive funding constraints. There are sometimes reasons, good or bad, why people are going the long way round, and you'll sometimes need to accept that. And sometimes not.

These places have a lot more things to teach us - the importance of tax law, the significance of global warming, the difficulties of living with enormously more powerful neighbours - but let's cut it back to the one we started with. You've got choices.