Going From Corporate to Non-Profit

April 21, 2008 by

I’m sure we’ve got at least a few readers out there who are in the corporate world and thinking of dabbling in the realm of churches. If you’re thinking of leaving a job with a profit-making company to one with a nonprofit, there are some issues you need to concern yourself with.

The New York Times writes in a question and answer article “Your True Calling Could Suit a Nonprofit”:

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about switching from the corporate world to the nonprofit world?

A. Many people are surprised to find the hours longer and stress greater than in the corporate world. Brian Olson, who left the private sector for a nonprofit in 2006, found the decision-making process to be unfocused.

“No matter how good a volunteer board is, it’s not the same as a corporate board, because everyone has a different agenda,” said Mr. Olson, who returned to the private sector a year later to be vice president for public affairs at Video Professor Inc., a company in Lakewood, Colo., that sells self-tutorial programs. “There was a purity to corporate life I missed,” he said.


They also add that:

“Many people think that work for a nonprofit will be less stressful, compared with the for-profit world,” said Jean Erickson Walker, a managing partner at OI Partners, a career coaching firm in Portland, Ore.

“That’s nonsense,” she said. “In most nonprofits you’ll be expected to work longer hours–including evenings and weekends–for less money.”

Check out the whole article for some more great observations and tidbits, including expecting a 5% pay cut, not starting by sending in a résumé and finding a nonprofit that’s right for you.

Of course, we’d suggest the Job Lab and Freelance Lab if you’re looking towards making the switch. (link via Surviving the Workday)

Post By:

Joshua Cody


Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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6 Responses to “Going From Corporate to Non-Profit”

  • Lacy
    April 22, 2008

    Working for a non-profit … and working for a CHURCH are two *TOTALLY* different animals.
    I’m speaking as someone who recently left a communications position at my church (I had been there 5 years) for a position in higher education (also a non-profit … lol).
    While some of their comparisons are right on the money — working longer hours, largely un-focused decision making, etc.
    Also … the 5% salary pay cut … again … that doesn’t hold true for most church positions in the technical / design/ programming /communications realm (which most of CMS readers are in). You’re actually probably looking at more like 30 – 40%. (or at least that’s the norm in the southeast).
    The workload and expectations of a church employee … also entirely different from just a non-profit job. It’s sooooo much more than just a job … and it’s not something you can just leave at the office. I was also a MEMBER of the church I worked at (a requirement) … and be prepared for it to totally affect how you worship and your involvement in your church. The politics of your corporate office … they’re small potatoes when compared to the politics of a church office and dealing with church members and ministers. ;)
    There are good things and bad things about being on staff at a church … (as everywhere) … it’s just that most people have higher expectations than are realistic for a church office.
    Go into realizing it’s NOT going to be a utopian happy-all-the-time everyone acts Christian towards everyone else … and you’ll be fine ;)


  • Melissa
    April 22, 2008

    Yep…I’m one of those who left a job at a Fortune 100 company to go on staff for a church of less than 100 people. Culture shock to say the least. The pay cut (almost 70% in my case) is an adjustment, but no one works for a church for the money.
    The bigger challenge is exactly what the article captures. Working with volunteers is *much* more difficult than most people would expect. For me the hours aren’t longer, but they are definitely more intense. This isn’t just a job I do. It’s the life I live to support the church family that I love. The bottom line truly is heaven or hell and there’s no way that compares to the toughest meetings I ever had in the corporate world. Because what we’re doing is so personal and everyone is emotionally invested it also leads to a completely different kind of politics (and not everyone plays nice).
    BUT…it also means that at the end of every day I know that what I’m doing has profound and eternal significance. Corporate jobs can be fabulous mission fields, but I’ve found that just as my job at the church has greater challenges, it also has greater rewards.


  • James
    April 23, 2008

    I may be one of the few people whose stress levels went down when they went from corporate to church. I went from working at a daily newspaper (2-midnight, hour-plus commute) to working at my church (9-5). To me, there is still stress, but it is nowhere near the amount I had before and my wife is quick to point this out all the time.
    As for misconceptions, the biggest one was that working for a church was going to be one big happy Christian potluck. This job has been one of the biggest blessings in my life, but the flipside is that you get to see “how the sausage is made.” Point being, we’re all human, and that doesn’t change just because your workplace has a sanctuary and a baptismal onsite.
    That said, I don’t regret taking this job at all. God has blessed me more than I could ever imagine.


  • Tim Wall
    April 28, 2008

    I am the opposite. I started out working full-time in church, then moved to a for-profit company. In my case, in my for-profit work, I’m dealing with much smaller budgets than I did in church work.
    I believe churches waste a lot of money (especially larger churches, where I worked) because there is not a clearly-defined ROI. I have learned more about working with cost-efficiency working in the for-profit world than in the church world.


  • Andrew Piper
    December 15, 2008

    Does anyone know of any books on this topic?


  • Tanya Mitchell
    June 13, 2009

    My husband is the director of our church’s summer camp. This is a 501 (c) 3 organization. The church trustees board wants to insist that he cover’s the cost of his own paper for xerox copies and other stationery goods. (In other words, use your own items.)there are other items needed to supply the camp as well. Staffing is being limited also. Is that fair if the camp is used to make the church prosper?



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