Why grads don’t want your nonprofit job

publication date: Dec 14, 2011
author/source: Jennelle Dippel
During a lecture in the communications program I recently completed, our professor tossed out the question, "How many of you would like to work for a not-for-profit when you are done here?" Jennelle Dippel photo

I innocently glanced around the room, eager for my hand to join a forest of excited limbs waving in the air. Isn't that what all of us feeling-oriented, people-loving communicators want to do? My arm shot up and I counted one, two ... three other hands.

Shared frustrations

Why weren't my fellow communications comrades itching to join the crusade? Well, many of them had tried at one point or another and their experiences had been less than they'd hoped for. They shared the two main frustrations they had encountered in the social sector:
  1. Lack of communication - They were unsure of their duties, didn't know who to listen to, and generally felt in the way of those in charge (who tended to run around them like headless poultry). 
  2. Lack of appreciation - Some felt that their time and education were actually valued less in the social sector than in the corporate one, and they received little feedback for their work.
I was a bit unnerved by the attitudes of my classmates but nonetheless eager to give the social sector a try. When I was presented with an opportunity to be part of Mercy Ships International, the organization behind the world's leading charity hospital ship, I excitedly accepted.

And? What did I discover running from the voices of my peers into an office of the social sector?  

When communication and appreciation work

Mercy Ships has confirmed that communication and appreciation can in fact be the cornerstones of a not-for-profit. Their mandate of bringing hope and healing is present in the way they build relationships in their small office as much as it is when they perform life-saving surgeries onboard the Africa Mercy.

I have no doubt that this abounding internal communication on home soil leads to more successful fieldwork in Africa. My experience at Mercy Ships confirms how crucial it is to build healthy, affirming, communicating environments at an office level.

From the mouth of my boss, Canadian national director Tim Maloney, "While the mission of an organization defines its purpose, the capacity to reach that purpose can be traced directly to the quality of the people who commit their talent, time and energy to it."

How unfortunate that future leaders and talent are fended off in some corners of the sector simply because this sentiment is either missing or ignored - often merely because organization and intentionality are lacking within the office!

Core truths are simple

Having just spent significant time in the classroom I know that a little 101 has sometimes bored but never hurt anybody, so perhaps it is good to pause, read and repeat some big, simple things.

Big, simple thing number one: Nonprofit work is not always romance. It is different being in an office (where I am) than being on a hospital ship (where I am not). This is perhaps part of the challenge for those of us just entering the field.

Big, simple thing number two: If employees and volunteers are not taken care of first, it will likely be an uphill run toward the goal. Communication and appreciation are vital factors in creating either roadblocks or building blocks within an organization.

Reading and repeating are fairly simple. It's much harder to undo entrenched patterns and bring an organization back to its centre. But taking time is a requisite for making time, as they say.

As a student-turned-social-sector-employee, I am glad to be here. And I am grateful that my experience with Mercy Ships has given me an exceedingly healthy foundation of these, the big, simple things, to build upon in my future within the social sector.

Jennelle Dippel is PR & communications coordinator at Mercy Ships, an organization providing free surgeries to the world's poorest people along the west coast of Africa. She was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta and now enjoys life by the ocean on beautiful Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Jennelle holds a degree in communications from Royal Roads University. Writing is her passion and she believes that, from interpersonal relationships to corporations, healthy communication is a fundamental element of happiness and success.

Contact her by email.

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