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Making a Difference in the Nonprofit World

Photo by Claudia Raya fist bump
March 2, 2022


One of the main reasons why Joanna Goode has always worked in nonprofit is that she likes working with people. Joanna, who is currently Executive Director at The Canadian Association for Supported Employment (CASE), adds, “I also like the general atmosphere in nonprofits, which tends to be more humanistic and holistic.”

The main reason many people like Joanna are attracted to working in the nonprofit sector is they want to make a difference.

Joanna says that the holistic nature of working in nonprofits means she’s able to bring who she is as a person and how she shows up in the world to work. “Working in the nonprofit sector allows me to blend values with what I do for a living rather than working really hard at a job in for-profit and then trying to figure out how to volunteer around that,” she says.

Caryl Arundel, Coordinator, Certificate in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Management at The Chang School of Continuing Education agrees that people are attracted to the shared value base that nonprofits build themselves around. “You go into this because you want to make a difference and you believe in community, equity, and a sense of mission,” she says, adding that visiting any nonprofit website, it’s clear that values are an important foundation for nonprofits. 

While this may be found in the public sector and also in the private sector through CSR, these values are at the core of what nonprofits do – and one of the main reasons people are attracted to the sector and why nonprofits will continue to grow going forward.  

In order to do that, the sector is often defined as having three roles, says Caryl Arundel, Coordinator, Certificate in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Management at The Chang School of Continuing Education. These are:

  1. Service delivery: delivering a wide range of programs and services to individuals and communities.
  2. Advocacy: conducting research, raising awareness, advocating for causes, and influencing public policy.
  3. Contributing to civil society: strengthening communities, connecting people in communities to one another, creating access to services, and working to improve equity.

“Nonprofits make a difference in all these areas by delivering services to all sorts of individuals in communities,” says Caryl. “They make a difference in policy, trying pilot projects and showing that innovative ideas can work. There are lots of examples of initiatives that nonprofits have undertaken that governments have picked up on and they’ve become policy.”

Flexible Working Arrangements

The pandemic has forced businesses and organizations to rethink traditional office working environments. With mandates and restrictions loosening locally and in other countries, many employers are faced with difficult conversations with their employees around going back to the office.

In fact, a Statistics Canada survey from December 2021 found that 30 percent of employees from April 2020 to June 2021 said they performed most of their hours from home. The Labour Force Survey also found that, on average, nonprofit organizations anticipated that over one quarter of their workforce will have hybrid telework and on-site work arrangements over the next three months (December 2021 to February 2022) compared with half of that anticipated by the private sector.

While Caryl said that’s in line with the benefits of working in the nonprofit sector, it’s difficult to say whether the difference between the nonprofit and private sectors around hybrid work arrangements will remain that way over the years to come.

Having said that, the flexibility to work where you want will still be a big selling point for organizations trying to attract new workers to the sector. Aside from being more supportive of a hybrid working environment, Caryl adds nonprofits tend to offer more educational support in terms of training and development than the private sector.

“One of the main reasons for this is that jobs in this sector may not pay as much as the same roles in the private sector or government, so employers have to make up for it in other ways,” says Caryl.

However, she goes on to say that the average wage for the average nonprofit job is slightly higher than the average wage for the average worker in Canada in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. The same report also found that the pay gap in the sector is reducing and wages have been increasing steadily from 2010 to 2019.

One of the reasons for this is that nonprofit workers are professionals and are reported as being more highly educated than the general workforce. In 2019, roughly 34 percent had a college degree and almost the same had a university degree. 

Types of nonprofit organizations

Another factor in salary in the nonprofit sector comes down to what type of nonprofit it is. Statistics Canada breaks down nonprofits into three categories:
  • Individuals and household nonprofits: these make up the bulk of nonprofits and can include housing, recreation, sports, and arts organizations. Half of these types of nonprofits rely solely on volunteers as employees. These nonprofits often operate on a more limited budget as they rely on donations, government grants, project funding, self generated income, and user fees.
  • Business nonprofits: these include organizations like chambers of commerce, and professional organizations like Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario and the Law Society of Ontario. They tend to be funded by the industries or members they represent.
  • Government nonprofits: these include universities, hospitals, political parties, and boards of education. These tend to be well resourced, and have the largest number of employees.

While Statistics Canada doesn’t break down the sector by category when talking about growth, the sector is growing faster than the national economy, which is a good sign for those looking to enter it. It’s estimated that there are 2.5 million people working in the nonprofit sector in Canada and that number continues to grow.

But the demand for education about the sector is coming from increasingly diverse groups of people who don’t even work in the sector. For example, someone might be studying politics, business, or social work, but since their chosen profession might partner with a nonprofit, they need to understand how nonprofits work. The rise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) at businesses and large corporations has seen the private sector increasingly working with nonprofits, which in turn has led to increased interest in learning about the sector, says Caryl.

In most cases, existing nonprofit workers are attracted to learn more about leadership, advocacy, marketing, financial planning and more as it pertains to nonprofits because they want to move up to other positions or work in higher level jobs like an executive director or head of a department, she adds.

As Joanna has risen up the ranks in the nonprofit sector to her current title as Executive Director at CASE, she decided to take the Certificate in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Management at The Chang School of Continuing Education in part to to build and develop her leadership, organizational development, and evaluation skills among others, which the certificate helped her with. It also helped her prepare for a Masters of Leadership and Community Engagement that she’s currently working on. 

Provincial recognition

If choosing where you work from and making a difference isn’t enough to learn more about the nonprofit sector, then perhaps the preamble in the recently passed Bill 9, Non-Profit Sector Appreciation Week Act, 2021, that describes nonprofit work as “indispensable and heroic” might inspire you. Non-Profit Sector Appreciation Week ran from February 14-20, 2022 in Ontario and will take place every year from now on.