Does Size Matter? Working for a Nonprofit Organization

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The American Cancer Society is one of the most well-known nonprofit organizations worldwide. It’s a large nonprofit that has several smaller local branches throughout the world. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

You’ve probably heard of the United Way, the Ronald McDonald House, and the American Cancer Society, but you probably haven’t heard of The WV Family Grief Center, Stepping Stones, or Morgantown Area Youth Services Project. What’s the difference? All three are nonprofit organizations seeking to help provide services to those in need, but the first three are nationally recognized while the other three are strictly local nonprofits. But does size really matter?

What defines a large nonprofit or a small nonprofit? Income. According to the IRS, public charities are predominately small. Organizations are considered large nonprofits if they have revenues and  assets above $100,000. Smaller nonprofits are those who have revenues and assets below $100,000.

When it comes to working for a nonprofit organization, size can matter. Smaller organizations generally run on a smaller budget. In many cases, employees may have to fundraise their own paycheck. In turn they have a smaller staff that requires a larger leadership role than larger organizations. This also means more work per employee. This is where the “overworked and underpaid” cliché often comes in. Many smaller organizations can’t afford to send their leaders to conferences or training outside of the small organization due to lack of funding.

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Christian Help is a local nonprofit organization in Morgantown, WV that seeks to serve the area with several service programs that offer food, clothing, and financial aid. Photo courtesy of google images.

Alex Weiderspiel is a former Americorps member who served at Christian Help in Morgantown.

“Sometimes working for a non-profit isn’t exceptionally rewarding,” explained Weiderspiel. “The hours can be very long, the pay will never be good (hence non-profit), but it’s exceptionally rewarding to know that there are people who care. Not only do they care, but they are actively trying to make a difference and help people who either can’t help themselves or have somehow fallen through the cracks of the system. Non-profit work can be very frustrating, but it’s frustrating for everybody and it reminds you that there are like-minded people who are willing to honor the Social Contract and sacrifice personal gain for the betterment of all.”

In a larger nonprofit setting, employees tend to have more specialized roles that allow employees to focus on specific tasks and complete them effectively and efficiently. Many larger nonprofit employees do not have to fundraise their own paychecks. In addition, larger nonprofits are operationally sound when it comes to things like communication, marketing, and fundraising. Larger nonprofits also receive help and support from their larger network of organizations throughout the nation. Smaller nonprofits do not have that benefit.

Working at a smaller nonprofit, doesn’t always mean things are bad. In fact, people who work at a smaller nonprofit are often more involved with the people they are helping than those who work for larger nonprofits. Smaller nonprofit employees get to see the service they are providing in action. This is often the most rewarding part of working in a nonprofit. In turn, being so far away from the action at a larger nonprofit may result in feeling like you’re not making a difference.

Brittany Elliot works for the local Morgantown Ronald McDonald House. She believes the rewards of working at a nonprofit outweigh the negative aspects.

“I think that larger non-profits have an advantage in the fact that their name is better known than smaller non-profits,” explained Elliot. “Regarding employment, I think that non-profits that are larger may have more monetary funds than a smaller non-profit so they may be better off in that regard. I do believe the personal reward you get with working for a non-profit is worth getting a smaller paycheck,” said Elliot. “The personal connections you create with the families is worth much more than money to me. Working for any non-profit though has it’s monetary challenges because you are working for a “not for profit” organization. I think there are ups and downs to both large and small non-profit organizations.”

Weiderspiel says that working for a nonprofit large or small can be frustrating.

“The huge disadvantage comes from how frustrating it can be trying to help people when you realize that no matter how much help you give, it may not be enough in the end,” explained Weiderspiel.

But he also says it’s something he would do again.

“It is definitely something I would do again, and something I’d love to be able to tie into the world of journalism,” said Weiderspiel.

Either way, Weiderspiel says your attitude matters most.

“No matter how prepared or unprepared you may think you are–in the end you have absolutely no idea the trials and tribulations that you’ll encounter,” he explained. “You can’t predict anything. The most common thing we used to say at Christian Help was that we worked in a “reactive environment.” You simply have to have the right attitude, grab your figurative lunch-pail, and be prepared to do something new every day that may be well outside the realm of your job description. That’s what you’re signing up for. If you have the right attitude, you can make a difference. It may wind up only being a small difference, but sometimes that small difference can mean the world to somebody else.”

So does size matter? The answer lies within you. If you want to be in the action consider working at a local nonprofit. If you want a more specialized role to showcase your talent and promote your career, a larger nonprofit organization is probably a better fit. Either way, consider your motivations and what you want to accomplish before you choose an organization to work for.

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