The Greater Good

Greater Good USC 13Nov

Last month, I had the pleasure of taking part in “The Greater Good.” This event, hosted by the University of South Carolina, was intended to help college students understand the benefits and challenges of working in the non-profit sector.

As part of the three-person panel, we were asked questions from the moderator and audience. The three of us gave our insight for all the questions asked, but we took turns who would answer first.

I came from a slightly different perspective since I don’t per se work for a non-profit. However, I guess I qualified to be on the panel because we do a bunch of stuff for no money! (And I did work for a church for four years, so that counts, too.)

I wanted to share my answers (and some of the wisdom from my co-panelists) to some really good questions.

Moderator Q&A

What was your first significant service experience?

I think my first significant service experience was being a leader at summer camps (for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes) when I was in college, in 1997 and 1998. That was the first time I remember pouring myself out for the sake of someone else’s benefit.

What are some of the misconceptions about working in non-profits?

There is a misconception that the non-profit sector lacks high-quality talent. People think that there is either there is no need for top-notch talent, or that it’s just not there. It’s easy for people think that non-profit jobs are for everyone who can’t get a real job, like a chemist. Also, there is an idea that non-profit workers should be paid less, and that they should not be concerned about making a lot of money.

But the truth is that quality results take quality talent, and attracting quality talent takes money. Plus, quality talent and quality results should be compensated fairly.

Other panelists noted that other misconceptions include:

  • You can’t build a career in non-profit. Truth: There are plenty of opportunities for advancement and growth.
  • You have limited creativity and freedom. Truth: You restructure to fit the need.

What are some benefits / challenges about working for non-profits vs for profit companies?

Some benefits are that I have had great flexibility in my schedule. Also, as the other panelist already said, there can be freedom to be innovative, in the right work environment.

One draw back for me is that it can be hard to objectively determine the impact you are having, especially in the short-term. Metrics were more clear when I was a chemist (e.g., the experiment either worked or failed).

Another panelist explained another challenge that I completely agree with. Often, in non-profit jobs, there is an large emotional investment and attachment to the work. Therefore, one must be diligent to take time to recover and decompress.

What resources would you suggest for students wanting to get involved in non-profits?

For anyone who is thinking about working in a not-for-profit organization, I highly encourage them to volunteer now. One doesn’t have to volunteer in the exact area in which he thinks he wants to work in. He or she may gain a new interest, and can learn a lot by humbly serving.

One of the other speakers encouraged the students to find out how they are gifted, such as with strength and personality tests. It is important to “know thyself.”

What makes you want to go to work in the morning?

I love being in a job where I can see that I am making a difference in people’s lives.

Someone else shared that she enjoys being at a job where it’s OK to make mistakes, because she has a community that supports her.

Questions from the Audience

It began with the big question on most people’s minds:

How do you get money?

Of course, most non-profit jobs receive funding from grants and other government funding. I shared that I have worked multiple part-time jobs, but I get most of my money from donations. I told the crowd that I am greatly encouraged when I get my monthly report of who gave; this report proves that people have confidence in what I’m doing. (You can read When You Give. . .)

One of the co-panelists explained that in for-profit companies, money is the capital. The employees are accountable to produce money (income, profit) for the shareholders or owners. In the non-profit world, “life change” is the capital, and the employees are accountable to make this known to donors and agencies.

Following up with this great explanation, I explained that I have used my blog as a way to keep my supporters informed and inspired. That led to the next question . . .

How has social media and blogging helped?

One of the other speakers started it off, and mentioned that it is great to share information and give inspiration. Since we have these tools to share ideas, why not use them?

I use these media to do the same (inform, invite, inspire). But a couple of years ago, I was cautioned by a friend to not just focus on talking (such as on social media). Don’t just tell others what is important to you; show it by your actions. People throughout history were making history, and yet they didn’t make a bunch of noise about it.

Now, I don’t remember saying it quite like my friend remembers, but I’ll include what she attributed to me on Twitter:

For My Greater Good, Too

I hope that our insight and experiences were helpful for the students who attended, and that you can glean some insight, too. At the least, the questions made me think and reflect, which is always helpful for me.

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