For-Profit, Non-Profit, Missions Work - What’s the Difference?


When I talk about my workday to some of my friends, there have been times where they said that they were jealous. Having come from a long day of work and office politics in their for-profit companies, my day of shorter office hours and independency seemed like a dream to them. They then talk about their thoughts of doing a career change and wanting to come over to the non-profit side because they think it’s “easier”. However, I remind them that the grass is always greener on the other side.

People with similar values and interests are normally gathered together in a non-profit organization. As far as general teamwork and using your time and energy at work goes, working together shouldn't be too difficult since you are working for similar values and interests as your coworkers. Although you may clash with their working styles, you keep at it since you feel more committed to the organization’s purpose and cause (compared to for-profit companies where money is always the bottom line). 

For the most part, in a non-profit organization, your voice matters. You are always checking back to your organization’s vision and mission statement when you’re doing your tasks and making decisions. While doing so, if you feel that what you and your team are doing doesn’t align with the vision, you can speak up. Don't be afraid to state your opinion as it most likely will be heard and the tasks could be re-evaluated. The finances for non-profits may be limited so using time and money on something that doesn’t fit with the organization’s vision and values would be a waste so the sooner you speak up about a concern, the better it will be for the whole organization. In corporate settings, you are just one fish in the big sea, therefore, you must follow the leader. It’s hard to bring up your opinion and even if do and people in your team agree, if the higher-ups say to do so, then you have to follow and just do it. Granted it might be since they have the bigger picture in mind, but it doesn’t make doing the work any easier if you feel that it’s a waste of your individual time. 

Since the resources of nonprofits are limited usually each employee has to wear many different hats to get the job done. I’ve had to be the operations, admin, finance, marketer, and janitor all at once when working at a non-profit. Although the normal office hours may be shorter, you make up for it with the unlimited hours you put in to complete an upcoming project - possibly staying in the office till midnight, then going home to keep working at it because there simply aren’t enough hands to help finish it. Also, even though the office hours might be shorter, many times you’re still on work-mode even at home (which is the case for many corporate jobs as well). You have to learn to be flexible and work with what you’ve got.  

In my personal experience, the main difference that I could state between working at corporations or an NGO is that if the NGO is missions/religion related then you don’t have to worry too much about being questioned about your religious beliefs/values by co-workers or your clients. Missions teams/religious NGOs are usually formed with people who share the same religion, beliefs, and values. You can also comfortably talk about it out in the open as well as that is what you are most likely working for. There are also times where as a team, we can spiritually build each other up, openly praying for one another and being able to have real and deep conversations.

There are many other differences but at the end of the day, there are also many similarities so there really isn’t one “easier” job. You have good days and you have bad days; you are physically tired one day and the next you’re emotionally tired. It’s really what you make of it that will determine your happiness and contentment at work - regardless of you working at a for-profit company or a non-profit organization.