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Words of Wisdom
7 Things I Wish I Would've Known Before Joining a Nonprofit
Charlitta Crowder Hatch

Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said: “Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice… you will get satisfaction out of doing things to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.”

Many women are committed to making a difference in the community where they live. In fact, according to the nonprofit hub, 75% of nonprofit volunteers and workers are women. I have been actively involved in a variety of local and national nonprofits for nearly 15 years, ranging from startups to organizations that have been operating for nearly 100 years. Here are seven things I wish I would have known before joining the non-profit world:

1. This is your passion, but it's not everyone's passion. 

You have found a cause that you want to champion and that's great. However, you will quickly realize that although you are passionate and all fired up, many of those around you may not share that same fire. This is okay. There are many causes that need champions; don't get mad if your friends or family aren’t as connected to yours as you are.

2. Pace yourself.

Since this is your passion, you will likely be connected to this initiative for the rest of your life. Give what you can afford to give in regards to time and money, but remember to save some for yourself. There is always work to be done, and this organization needs you committed for the long haul.

3. Seize the networking opportunities ASAP. 

Invest time in connecting with people. You have already found common ground. You will be pleasantly surprised at where the relationships may take you — personally or professionally. 

4. Manage your expectations. 

Many nonprofits run off the support of volunteers, which means that you have to adjust your expectations when interacting with team members — or be prepared to help more. Volunteers may work another job or have other responsibilities, so you may not get answers during the typical work day. Also, the technology or processes you are used to may not be readily available. If this is the case, just breath and remember that it’s volunteer-based.

5. A lot of this stuff is probably tax deductible. 

Most of the money that you spend on things like membership dues or fundraiser tickets are tax deductible. You should consult your tax professional for clarity, but it’s really a win-win: making a difference and reducing the your taxable income.

6. Stay focused.

There are many nonprofits that focus on different things. You have to stay true to the mission of the nonprofit you are a part of so that they can be good stewards of the resources that they have. Don’t get side-tracked and try to make it bigger than what it’s capable of doing. People (including you) are connected to the mission, so stay true to it.

7. Have fun. 

Relax and enjoy the volunteers, staff and people you are serving. There is no need to burn out and forget the reason that you wanted to be a part of the organization in the first place. 


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