When starting my career I was told to avoid working for a not-for-profit organization. “Once there you will never escape the non-profit world and the experience doesn’t count in corporate America.” That strong caution may have been appropriate at one time, but may be far too harsh today.
One of the best organizations I have worked with is the non-profit Arthur W. Page Society. The experience of working with the top corporate communication professionals in the world, managing the budget, staff and programs has expanded my view of what’s possible on limited budgets. When I joined three years ago the Society had negative cash flow for the previous four years. It was producing two major meetings a year, plus regional meetings, teleconferences and publishing a member directory. Its strongest asset was its membership base, comprised of more than 300 of the top communicators in the world.
With the active participation of more than 100 members, we were able to grow the Society’s programs, publications and value proposition. Working with committee and task force chairs to create new ideas, bring them to life and see them funded has been both exciting and gratifying. In the last three years, we’ve had the opportunity to make our events bigger and more successful, have published two white papers, launched a new program to develop future leaders in the profession, started a public blog, created a private social networking site, improved our web site, streamlined our operations and systems, improved a monthly web newsletter and converted our directory to a more up to date on-line version. Cash flow and net income is also now positive.
Many of these activities are exactly the kinds of things a corporate communication department or an agency would do and I had the benefit of the thinking of some of the best in the business as we revamped and improved the Society,
Our communication director, Anuneha Mewawalla, has also gained invaluable experience managing many of these new initiatives and writing many of the Society communications. Her experience at the non-profit Page Society directly parallels the experience of my former colleagues in corporate communication roles. And the variety of projects she is involved with is likely much broader than a corporate position and on par with agency peers.
While the non-profit world has a reputation for low pay, that too is changing. The right talent can make a big difference to a non-profit organization and many are willing to recruit and pay for talented people. The experience can be invaluable and the exposure to a wide variety of corporations and agencies provides a perspective that is hard to match when working for a corporate entity.
Volunteers, like the committee and task force members at the Page Society, are not only making a big difference in the success of the organization through their active participation, they are also sharing their expertise and perspective with staff members. It’s that kind of information exchange that helps to make a non-profit experience even more valuable for hard-working staff members.
Most non-profits welcome the help of additional volunteers. It can be a good way to network and broaden your own perspective. It also can bring the satisfaction of knowing that you are helping to advance a cause you believe in.
Whether as a volunteer or an employee, non-profits may be worth a serious look.
(Tom Nicholson is Executive Director of the Arthur W. Page Society, the association of senior PR professionals. Peviously, Tom has worked in corporations and agencies).