Crossing the Sectoral Divide

“The lines between the private and non-profit sectors are blurring,” Michael Chu stated last Wednesday in a panel sponsored by the Social Enterprise Club on changing sectors throughout one’s career. Chu and fellow panelists Kelly Fitzsimmons and Susan Wolf Ditkoff debunked a number of commonly shared myths about the differences between the non-profit and private sectors.

Myth # 1
Non-profit work does not require as many skills as private-sector work.
All the panelists agreed that the the skill set one develops in non-profits is not different from the skill set one acquires in the private sector. However, training in a non-profit is often less structured than the training in consulting and investment banking. Instead of being trained in one area, non-profit employees often acquire “a mix of business development, line management, customer relations, leadership, prioritization, and motivational skills all at once,” Wolf Ditkoff commented. She added that, “If you don’t work to keep and maintain your skill set, it will erode. That’s true in any sector.”

Myth # 2
Non-profits give you more time and make you a better person.
“Going to a non-profit will not give you more time,” Chu stated. “My hours did not change at all [when I joined the non-profit world].” Furthermore, working at a non-profit does not automatically make you a better person. “If you’re a jerk and you’re doing noble things, you’re still a jerk.”

Myth # 3
Non-profits carry lower prestige than private-sector alternatives.
All of the panelists agreed that a reputable non-profit would carry a higher level of prestige than a lesser known private sector company. Fitzsimmons emphasized that the things to consider when moving to any organization are the people and structure. She advised the audience to ask, “Who is there that I look up to and what is it about them that I would like to emulate?”

Myth # 4
You make no money in the social sector.
“Finances are part of a package of myths and misperceptions about the non-profit sector and it may be the biggest one,” Wolf Ditkoff said. Fitzsimmons said that it is true that there is generally less money in the non-profit sector. “You’re not going to have a big house in Chestnut Hill, a Mercedes SUV, etc. so if these things are important to you, don’t fool yourself by thinking you will get them by staying solely in the non-profit world.” However, she emphasized that “it’s a personal choice, and you need to think about where you derive richness in your life.”

The panelists all underscored that there are multiple ways to participate in the social sector without going into direct service with one non-profit organization. “Some of you are tomorrow’s philanthropists,” Fitzsimmons said, and the chore is “to exercise that philanthropy wisely.” “The challenge,” Ditkoff submitted, “is to think about what sort of impact you are trying to have in this world” and follow that resolve.

For more information on participating in the social sector, please attend “Participating on a Non-profit Board” this Wednesday, March 6, from 4 to 5 in the Meredith Room in Spangler.