Is working in the nonprofit sector “selfish”, why leave?

Posted on January 31, 2008. Filed under: Nonprofit |

I have had and read many interesting conversations about why people work in the nonprofit sector lately, and why they like it better than working for a for-profit company. A high value of making positive change is always one of the answers, but are they really doing it because they are being selfish? If they were I don’t see why they would ever leave!

Jeremy Gregg, writer of the blog The Raiser’s Razor, says,

“The opportunity costs [of working for a nonprofit] are minimal in this regard when we look at the enormous gains we have made in other areas: seeing the impact of our work every day, feeling … ownership over our actions, reveling in the glorious triumphs of lives changed through a series of events that we set in motion … we make no sacrifices to be here…Indeed, we might even be seen to be selfish.”

His remarks remind me of an episode of Friends, when Phoebe tries to do a selfless good deed, without being happy about it.

In the end, Phoebe tries to give to PBS without being happy, but because Joey got on TV, she actually is happy. Her selfless good deed turns into something she is very happy about.

When some individuals enter the nonprofit sector the same affect happens. You may be starting to work their just for the money, but fall in love with the job, because you are making a difference in the community. This doesn’t happen often but I am sure it does. The majority of those entering the nonprofit sector are doing it because they love their cause and the opposite happens when they have to leave because they are not making enough or are burnt out by giving too much of themselves. From what I have read and heard, those that leave are always finding their way back.

A colleague of mine from a past job at a nonprofit, left her job their to venture into the for-profit sector. After a little over a year working their she decided, that although she worked closely with nonprofits, it was just not the same. She is now leaving the for-profit sector to work more closely with a cause she loves. I don’t know if I would consider her move selfish, I would consider it fulfilling.

Working in the nonprofit sector really is nothing like being selfish, as Gregg and Phoebe suggest. Many nonprofit professionals put in long hours, with little pay and measurement of their successes, but these same people are fulfilling their joy of working for others or working for their communities.

That is why I work with local nonprofits and community organizations. I have a need to fulfill my passion for working in the community and making a difference. If you ask my fiance he would tell you that he tells me everyday I need to be a little more selfish.

Does your job fulfill a need in your life?

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2 Responses to “Is working in the nonprofit sector “selfish”, why leave?”

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I have found this to be a non-useful dichotomy in my own life. When I’m honest with myself, I admit that I left the for-profit sector for a single reason, neither meaning-related nor money-related: I could not stand the physical environment of a cubicle job. I have always supported animal causes, but the move to an animal shelter job had to do with wanting to be in a more “living” place.

I found more meaning in the for-profit sector, actually, because in the for-profit sector I found better outlets to contribute my talents to products that I find valuable. In the nonprofit sector, I have been so bogged down with clerical work that I don’t feel like I’m making much of a difference for the cause.

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


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