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10 Myths About Non-profit Careers in the MENA

Posted by Reem Boudraa May 12, 2014 0 Comment

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Like most myths, the ones about the non-profit sector are based more on prejudice than fact. The non-profit sector of today hardly resembles the non-profit sector of five, 10, or 15 years ago. In fact, it barely resembles the non-profit sector of last year. With each passing day, the sector becomes more and more competitive, and this only serves to benefit non-profit professionals and job seekers. Here, the career experts at debunk 10 myths about non-profit careers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA):

Myth #1: Non-profits are laid back, less professional, and less rigorous.

Truth: There are certainly non-profits that fit this stereotype, but there are for-profit businesses that do too. Many non-profits are fast-paced, demanding, and disciplined; in fact, there’s a growing movement in that direction. Business people are often surprised to learn how difficult it is to make the transition into the non-profit sector which has different, often rigorous, standards of success. In fact, 92% of professionals in the MENA feel that people working for a non-profit organization are more ‘mission-driven’ than professionals in other sectors (as per the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, May 2014).

Myth #2: Non-profits are for people who could not make it in the business world.

Truth: Non-profit organizations are full of intelligent people with a passion for their work, many with graduate degrees and years of experience in the sector. While many professionals switch between the non-profit, government, and private sectors during their careers, each line of work presents its own set of challenges. Switching from for-profit industry to the non-profit sector is becoming a growing trend and a career aspiration for many in the MENA region. According to the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, 48% of MENA professionals would love to work for a non-profit organization

Myth #3: Working for a non-profit is not really a career path.

Truth: Working in the non-profit sector can be sometimes seen as taking a break from the “real world”, with the implied assumption that it is not an option to spend a lifetime doing this work. In reality, the non-profit sector provides many people with a lifetime of exciting work. Non-profits also tend to offer young people more leadership opportunities than other sectors. Many non-profits offer solid career paths and opportunities for advancement. According to the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, 53% of professionals in the MENA feel that career-oriented people can have satisfying careers working for non-profit organizations.

Myth #4: The non-profit sector is not competitive.

Truth: In a world of limited resources, non-profit organizations compete intensely for the public’s attention, recognition, funding, and other resources. This competitiveness usually transcends the entire organization and employees become catalysts of change in a highly competitive working environment.

Myth #5: Non-profit work is not challenging.

Truth: Ask anyone in a non-profit if their work is easy, and they will likely laugh – and for good reason. Not only is their work difficult, many would argue that it could be much more challenging than working in the for-profit sector. Employees in non-profits are often asked to do more with less, and in shorter periods of time, while keeping more people happy than are their for-profit counterparts. The results of this hard work are often intangible. According to the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, 78% of MENA professionals consider salaries in the non-profit to be less attractive than in other sectors, while 79% feel that non-profits offer less perks and benefits than other companies.

Myth #6: Non-profits are inefficient.

Truth: Non-profit organizations do not have clear bottom lines or profit margins. Serving a human or environmental need makes success and efficiency much more difficult to measure. Add to that the reality of limited resources and an emphasis on serving clients, and it becomes clear why the sector is often perceived as inefficient. There are certainly some inefficient and disorganized non-profit organizations, just as we see plenty of dysfunctional organizations in the private sector. In both cases, this is not necessarily a reflection on the sector as a whole.

Myth #7: Nonprofit jobs are secure.

Truth: One of the biggest myths related to nonprofit careers is that they’re “safe” careers. Those non-profits also have some great backers. A non-profit job is like any other. If a funder pulls their funding out, that non-profit organization is done. Just like every business, it all depends on where the money is coming from. According to the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, 75% of MENA professionals believe that job security is lower in the non-profit sector. Moreover, 74% say that there are few to no opportunities to find employment with a non-profit organization in their country of residence.

Myth #8: Non-profits are all the same.

Truth: Non-profit organizations are as different from one another as for-profit companies are. Beyond the obvious differences of mission and focus, key differences to note in non-profits include size, age, outlook, business model, and bylaws. From structure, to fundraising model, to mission, to people served, non-profits are widely diverse. Indeed, non-profits cover a wide range of issues, including issues within these areas:

  1. Arts, Culture, and Humanities
  2. Education
  3. Environment and Animals
  4. Health
  5. Human Services
  6. International and Foreign Affairs
  7. Public and Societal Benefit
  8. Religious

Myth #9: Non-profit employees have better work-life balance.

Truth: There are some non-profits that promote work-life balance for their employees, just like there are some for-profits that do. But there are also non-profits where long hours are the norm – particularly since what’s at stake can be so important. According to the ‘Working for Non-profit Organizations in the MENA’ poll, 52.3% of respondents believe that working for a non-profit organization means sacrificing more of your health and family time.

Myth #10: Working for a non-profit is just like volunteering.

Truth: Many non-profits rely on volunteers, especially in direct services. Volunteers, however, are often shielded from the organizational, financial, and other challenges with which the actual employees of an organization must contend. Some organizations also employ volunteers in addition to their paid staff, but many don’t use volunteer help at all, preferring instead the accountability of paid full-timers. This is why most non-profits are staffed by paid professional staff.

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About Reem Boudraa

Reem Boudraa is the Senior Editor at

View all post by Reem Boudraa

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