A Day in the Life of a Non-Profit Employee

I was trying to think of an example of a typical day working at my non-profit organization, and I realized that I could not … there is no typical day!

I feel like the best way to be efficient and productive is to be as proactive as possible, and yet very often much of my time goes toward putting out fires of unexpected “urgent” issues that come up. This causes a constant struggle between how I feel that I would like to delegate my time, and how I end up delegating my time. But, in the end, everything gets done.

There are the larger projects (event planning, etc.) that come up several times throughout the year and then those responsibilities overshadow the day-to-day work (which still needs to get done). There is the filling in for other co-workers, such as taking donors on a tour of one of our schools, or writing proposals when someone else has too much on their plate. There is the assistance that is needed for our main office in the US. There are the emergency campaigns that come up, where you have to drop everything and suddenly become a graphic designer. There is dealing with our database (and if you work at a non-profit that has an even “decent” database, consider yourself lucky!!) There is the need to assist our members/volunteers, and to do everything with a smile. There are days when I am working on an event to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I still have to be the “mailman” and go to the post office every day because our mail is not delivered directly to our office.

I think non-profit is a difficult field because in many ways, there are no rules. You don’t have the luxury to say, “that’s not my job”. But on the other hand, especially in smaller companies, you get to be involved in many ways and learn a lot. I personally have worked both in the for-profit and the non-profit worlds. I made the conscious choice to move to the non-profit world because (as cliché and naïve as this sounds) I wanted to do something that will make a difference. Sometimes you can get caught up in the miniscule day-to-day activities and lose sight of the larger picture … and it is important not to do that.

You have to remember the larger vision and goal that you are working towards.

I have to wonder, is my non-profit experience typical or unusual? Other fellow non-profit employees, what do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Chava Ashkenazi

Jerusalem, Israel

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4 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Non-Profit Employee

  1. Chaya says:

    Loving this forum. Although I don’t work in nonprof right now, I have worked with any in the past and I can definitely relate to your need for balance. Balance between reacting and being proactive. And all too often the strategic planning goes out the window and you are caught running circles doing the same, comfortable, safe things over and over instead of experimenting. Experimenting, for all the jargon and buzz worthiness of the idea, is not, in my experience, received well in the nonprof world. Sure we say we want to grow and learn but at the end of the day delegating already skimpy time, resources, and money to new projects, ideas, and programs is just not done enough. We are so beholden to donors, who usually are older, more established folks with pretty set ideas, or so constrained by lack of funding, and therefore time, that we continue to do the same stuff over and over with the same audiences and for the same purposes. We have meetings, about committees, about chairs, which then end of as an annual event on the calendar. We end up fund raising to pay ourselves and keep the org on it’s feet rather than accomplishing the set goals and missions the org was founded to address. It’s not a new idea, and yet we don’t see it enough- we need to audit non profs like we do businesses. We need to have double bottom lines. We need to budget like for profits. And we need to invite younger people, with no money, to the decision making table.

    • I really enjoyed the blog. Yes, that is my day as well. “Same church, different pew.” Although we do have mail delivered, I’m the one that cleans the office every Friday before I go home, and I take the garbage home as well, because I am too cheap to pay for commercial garbage service.
      We are a very small United Way, and every dollar I can send to a partner agency, is a dollar better “spent.”

      • chavaleh1127 says:

        Thanks Brian! Luckily I do not have to clean the office and take the garbage home, although I do recycle the plastic water bottles (we don’t have running water in our office), the paper, and the cardboard boxes 🙂

  2. chavaleh1127 says:

    Hi Chaya,

    Thank you so much for your feedback and enthusiasm! You make a lot of insightful points (several of which I hope to cover in upcoming posts). For example, how much power should donors have within an organization? What is (or should be) the balance of power between volunteer and staff? How effective are all these meetings that we have? I absolutely agree with you that in order for non-profits to succeed, they must be run like businesses. I also agree that “younger people with no money” should be brought to the decision-making table. I think this is especially critical in Israel where, let’s face it, most of us are not making big money. I look forward to expanding on your ideas in some upcoming posts.

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