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A Quick Guide to Working in the Not-For-Profit Sector

by Catherine Rodie Blagg
Posted: August 24, 2015

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As the name suggests, a ‘not for profit’ (NFP) is an organisation that does not operate for profit or personal gain. Not all not for profit organisations are charities, however, all charities are not for profit.

There are around 600,000 not-for-profit organisations operating in Australia today, ranging from social services to professional associations.

But what is it like to work in one? Here we speak to three people who work in the not-for-profit sector to find out.

Instagram: @cancercouncilqld / Image via

Mike works in the IT department of a not for profit within the disability sector.

The main difference between working for an NFP organisation and a traditional ‘for profit’ organisation is personal and corporate motivation.

In the commercial sector, as long as what you do contributes to the bottom line (and does not break any laws), you're okay. But in an NFP, the benchmarks are not as clear. KPIs (key performance indicators) revolve around saving (or not spending as much) and complying with statutory regulations.

On the whole, my experience has been a positive one. As NFPs generally exist to do good in the community (health, welfare, support for the disabled and disadvantaged) supporting people and even supporting people who support people, it is a rewarding way to make a living.

Leila works for a global not for profit that predominately works in disaster response and preparedness, food security, animal protection and sustainability.

Australian Red Cross celebrating Christmas in July in Kurnell

Instagram: @redcrossau / Image via

I love my job. I get up every morning filled with purpose, passion and determination. I work in an environment that is always changing, urgent and exciting. I am never bored. Every day I am inspired by "world changers" and humbled by the resilience of the human spirit. I get to be creative and critical. For me, it’s a perfect balance.

When I compare my work experience to that of friends and family, I think the biggest difference is that my job is so connected to who I am. It is central to my values and how I live my life. If you were to ask me "who are you?" the first thing I would say is "I am an advocate".

I don't know anyone who works in the corporate sector that feels so connected on a personal level to their position or their job.

My workplace is very flexible – I can work from home or the beach as long as the work gets done. There are lots of benefits, for example, my workplace provides yoga lessons, has a soccer team and we have regular team bonding sessions. Because of the nature of our work and the long periods of time we go without our families when travelling your colleagues become your friends and are a huge support network.

Lyndal works for the Cancer Council NSW

Group of Breast Cancer Volunteers raising money for the not-for-profit sector NBCF

Instagram: @nbcfaus / Image via

My role is very much public health research and advocacy, trying to help shape policy to support healthy lifestyles.

For me, the biggest difference between working for an NFP and a regular business is that I feel like I'm part of something bigger; something that makes a difference.

My experience in NFPs is that they're forced, due to shoestring budgets, to be innovative, and approach work in a strategic manner, which I love. I also think the work-life balance is much easier to achieve, especially at the Cancer Council because we’re a health-based charity.

Of course, there are some cons, NFPs often have lower wages; restricted budgets and outdated technology. We don't 'get' a lot from our employer, for example, we pay for our own Christmas party.

On the flip side, I get great professional development opportunities; we can access salary packaging and other employee benefits (such as reduced gym memberships) and we have quite flexible leave arrangements. Work-life balance is also very good.

I really enjoy going to work and feeling like I am making a difference. Plus, the people I work with are committed, enthusiastic and generally wonderful!

If you want to make a difference in your career and in the lives of others, working in the not-for-profit industry is a great way to do that. It can allow you to get close to a cause you really truly care about.

If you're inspired to make a difference to the community, learn what courses can formalise your qualifications here or download your free course guide via the form below.


Catherine Rodie is a freelance writer, blogger and tea lover. Her work has appeared in Sunday Life, Good Weekend, Daily Life, SMH Life & Style, MiNDFOOD and many more. In her free time she writes a blog about modern motherhood and the life that comes with it.

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