Things New Nonprofit Professionals Should Consider (Part One)

Things New Nonprofit Professionals Should Consider (Part One)

You’ve graduated from college and/or grad school and landed your dream job making a difference at your local nonprofit. You’re ready to change the world – and you will! Here are two factors to consider which will lead to your long-term success in the rewarding world of nonprofit work.

Know what you need in supervision.
Supervision is one of the most crucial elements of your success as a new nonprofit professional. It’s important to think about what you need from the start. The easiest way to identify your ideal supervision style is to ask yourself what has been helpful in your life when you are learning something new. How do you need to be supported? Do you tend to prefer working independently but avoid asking for help, eventually feeling isolated and frustrated that your supervisor does not know (or care) what you need?  Do you feel most comfortable meeting regularly or only asking for help when needed? What type of communication helps you to feel comfortable opening up? Do you appreciate regular feedback on how you are doing? Are you resentful of having to report to someone about your work?

Supervision is not just for the times when everything is going great. Supervision really makes a difference-positively or negatively-when you are overwhelmed, discouraged and wondering why you ever wanted to change the world in the first place.  If you and your supervisor are able to build a trusting relationship based on mutual respect, you will know that your needs will be met when things get rough.

The organizational culture at your job can affect your success.
An organization’s leadership determines its culture. Supervisors and Directors may empower employees to be creative, think outside the box and bring great energy to the work, creating a supportive environment in which everyone thrives, in spite of the challenge and difficulty of the work.  These leaders promote an atmosphere of learning and growth, in which staff are encouraged to try new things without fear of being judged for failing. Continuing education opportunities are abundant, and work/life balance is a priority for everyone on staff, including supervisors.

On the other hand, in many nonprofits the demands of saving the world on a shoestring budget can lead to an organizational culture of scarcity, in which there’s never enough. Never enough time to do all the work, nor enough money to pay the staff well. Never enough energy to eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep eight hours a night, and maintain hope that the problem the organization addresses will ever get better. In these organizations the supervisors may not have the resources to provide the support that idealistic new professionals need. Consequently, morale is low and everyone is at risk of burnout. We choose careers in the helping professions because we care about making a difference, and it can be very disappointing to work within an organization like this. Knowing what you need to thrive will help you decide whether you want to continue working in an unhealthy organizational environment.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series. 

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C is a clinical social worker in private practice in Severna Park, Maryland. She is a 2010 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. She loves helping individuals and families connect authentically. Her website is:

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