6 Surprising Similarities Between Nonprofits & Companies

6 Surprising Similarities Between Nonprofits & Companies

Working for a nonprofit means you’ve likely been subject to some assumptions held by outsiders about your lifestyle. Friends or family may think that you’re martyring yourself to your cause, making an unlivable wage, and/or sacrificing your livelihood for the greater good. (If they only knew the truth about what it is to work in nonprofit.)

However, our side isn’t guiltless when it comes to making assumptions either. I’ve heard members of the nonprofit community share their take on our corporate counterparts, too – specifically that they’re motivated by money.

Yes, our worlds are very different. Companies and nonprofits should run differently. Still, these two worlds aren’t as far apart as we might think. Nonprofits and businesses share some basic similarities that we as career seekers (and generally-informed people) ought to be aware of.

What are they exactly? Well for starters…


1. Both have a bottom line.

Revenue is a big driver for companies and nonprofits alike. It’s needed in order to meet goals and serve their stakeholders. Still, we’re talking about two very different bottom lines here. A company’s success is measured by its ability to turn a profit for its owners and shareholders. A nonprofit’s success is measured by its ability to create an impact in the communities where it serves.


2. Both need a sales pitch.

Businesses operate to make a profit, which is why we associate them with sales and customers. Nonprofits may not sell us a product or service, but they do offer something of value. That’s why they must be able to communicate their value proposition: not only to the people they serve, but to their partners, funders and donors too. Just because a nonprofit doesn’t have a sales division doesn’t exempt it from making the case for its worth. (How do nonprofits do this? Using data to tell their story is one major way.)


3. Both have to hone in on their market.

The same way that a company’s success relies on market research and proper segmenting, so does a nonprofit’s. Nonprofits can’t possibly serve every need for every person in their community. By figuring out who their target constituents are and how best to reach them, organizations poise themselves to make the most impact.


4. Both can provide financially rewarding careers.

If your end game is to get rich, I wouldn’t suggest jumping into the nonprofit sector to do it (and neither would this guy). There is definitely a wage discrepancy between for-profit and nonprofit jobs that is likely to limit your earning potential in the social sector. But for those who find the work rewarding, it is entirely possible to find roles that give you a leg up financially.

Tip: This salary.com list has the most extensive and up-to-date data I could find on nonprofit salaries in the US. While wages largely depend on your location and the type of nonprofit, generally speaking, fundraising and technology tend to be among the top-earning functions in the social sector.


5. Both can can be innovators in their space.

Some people may think innovation only comes from working in small tech startups or social enterprises (for-profit companies with a social agenda). Others may be trying to escape the rigid bureaucracies of their established organizations. Just remember that you can find both atmospheres in both sectors, if you know where to look.

Tip: Older, established organizations tend to have more internal systems and career paths in place for their employees. Small, newer organizations tend to operate with more of an all-hands-on-deck startup mentality. Both environments offer rewarding experiences, but you should figure out which speaks to you most.


6. Both can make the world better.

If you’re a nonprofit employee thinking ‘what is she talking about?!’, let me first say this statement should be read with caution. There is a very different potential that exists when an organization exists to make money rather than better society (and even still, good intentions alone are never enough). Still, we have to believe in a world where companies can do good too. Jacqueline Novogratz believes it, which is why she leads Acumen in funding for-profit enterprises around the world that are designing solutions to systemic problems. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments — which are becoming increasingly common in US companies — also lend a hand to this by strategically supporting issue areas and exposing employees to those topics.

If both sectors can make the world better, know that both can also contribute to society’s problems. The nonprofit sector has done wonderful work for humanity, but as any nonprofit employee will tell you, it’s still not perfect.


Nonprofit and corporate employees will probably continue to be embroiled in this battle of the sectors for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, we should all be fair in how we attempt to understand our divisions and our commonalities.

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