15 Minutes on Working in Nonprofits

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World-where in 15 minutes or less, you’ll learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better. My name is Lama Alsafi and I’m host of this podcast. In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we’re talking about working in nonprofits. How do you get started if you’re looking to make a shift in your career, some industry trends, challenges, opportunities, and much more. Our guest today is Mary Barroll, who is the VP of Media Affairs and General Counsel at CharityVillage-the top Canadian source for Canadian nonprofit news jobs, funding training, and more. Welcome to the podcast Mary, and thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

Mary Barroll (01:15): Well, thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Lama Alsafi (01:18): Mary, can you tell us a bit about CharityVillage, its mission and the work that you do?

Mary Barroll (01:23): Absolutely. So for about, actually this year 25 years, CharityVillage has supported the human resources and recruitment needs of nonprofit professionals working in the sector as well as charities and nonprofit organizations themselves. So over time we’ve become a critical sort of knowledge hub for all things related to human resources and labour market information for the sector, exclusively serving the nonprofit and charitable sectors in Canada. In recent years, we’ve been evolving and adding to many of our services. So we’re no longer just a job board. We provide many HR, digital resources contributing to a sort of digital Renaissance to support virtual operations of nonprofits. So we really feel that we’re very much part of an important and thriving sector in the nonprofit and charitable world. And that’s really, our whole mandate is to support the people and the organizations that function and serve our communities.

Lama Alsafi (02:28): Can you tell us a bit about career trends in Canada’s nonprofit sector? How careers have changed over the years and how the sector has been impacted in terms of employment and volunteering because of the pandemic?

Mary Barroll (02:41): Yeah, absolutely. So over the years we saw the people within the sector staying put. I mean, it typically attracts people who are extremely dedicated to having a career with impact. And so there was a consistent ageing in the demographic over the years. We’ve seen an uptick in the younger generation showing much more interest in working in roles that have social impact and meaning to them, you know, things that were beyond the bottom line and just working for a paycheck. So that’s been a real trend that we’ve seen some increasing in the numbers of younger workers, of looking for opportunities within the sector. We’ve also seen in the volunteer side and increase in, you know, some people refer to it as micro volunteering or informal volunteering. So those might be a situation where smaller tasks or certain kinds of projects are being done by people to support organizations that they feel passionate about, but it may not be an ongoing volunteering relationship in the sort of traditional sense.

We’ve also seen an increase in, I would call it, sort of people embracing a kind of community helping. So, you know, delivering meals and other sorts of support to the elderly, for example, or people who have mobility issues, especially during the pandemic, you know, there’s been a lot of stories about that as well. You know, overall workers generally have wanted more flexibility in both their schedules and where they work, the location in which they work. You know, the nonprofit sector, other than the front line kind of roles delivering services, seem to offer that, a bit more flexibility, especially in smaller organizations about where and how people work. You know, that has been a trend for, I would say the last five or more years where people wanting more flexible work hours and more flexible work generally, and really, with the pandemic forcing more organizations to really embrace remote work where possible.

And then the other thing that we’ve seen traditionally is we can tell from our recent salary reports, and historically comparing them to previous reports that this really is a sector that where it is a women majority sector. But unfortunately it’s still a sector where it’s not a majority women-led sector. So most of the workers are women, but not the same proportion of leaders are women. We have seen an increase in the number of women-led smaller organizations, so that may continue to evolve, to see more women, I guess, taking leadership roles in much larger organizations in the years ahead.

Lama Alsafi (05:58): What would you say are some of the challenges of working in nonprofits, as well as some of the rewards?

Mary Barroll (06:01): Sure. So I think the challenges are pretty well known. You know, in large part nonprofit organizations, especially the large number of small nonprofit organizations and charities, have limited resources and funds. You know, it’s always a challenge to maintain donor engagement and consistent revenues that support the delivery of the services that are part of their programming. I think that comparatively to the for-profit sector, there is consistently being a lower pay. And you know, there’s a need for, in many organizations, especially smaller ones, where people are required to wear many hats-and that could be a good thing, which is some of the rewards are that you can really gain from the additional sort of diverse experience professionally, and learning multiple skillsets, which is fabulous for professional development. But It can also cause, you know, a high burnout factor for many people, so I think that’s a challenge definitely as well.

I would say as well, due to the lower resources in the nonprofit sector, there’s also a significant lack of digital skills or there have been historically and digital infrastructure where, as a consequence of just having less resources. The rewards, I would say, and we see this across the board that, you know, the idea that you can spend every day doing impactful, meaningful work, where a person can see their own contribution in a cause that’s personally gratifying and meaningful to them. Um, you know, I think is something that many people in the for-profit sector looked to as something that they, they too would like to experience. So that’s definitely a reward. Sometimes, as I mentioned earlier, in the nonprofit sector, there is more informal or flexible work environments in many cases, especially in smaller organizations, for many people, the lifestyle may well be something that is a trade-off along with the emotional sort of feelings of being purposeful that they gained from working in the nonprofit sector.

Lama Alsafi (08:30): We’ve been talking a lot about diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit space. It’s been an issue that’s top of mind, although there’s still a lot of work to be done in this area. We’ve seen an encouraging shift happening where many nonprofits, and for-profit industries as well, are becoming more aware of the need to acknowledge, you know, past shortcomings and build more diverse and inclusive teams within their organizations. So why is this important? And are there any particular examples that you’ve seen recently that stand out to you of things that organizations are doing well in this area?

Mary Barroll (09:03): Yeah, I think it’s important to organizations and I think this is across the board from for-profit to nonprofit as well, but we reflect the true nature of society in the makeup of our organizations and how important that is in terms of being targeted and reflective in terms of the capacity to be able to give what many of the communities that we’re trying to support need. And there’s a, there’s an empathy, and an understanding that’s inherent in having a diverse workplace and workforce who understand the dynamics and the changing nature of the society that we serve. So I think there’s inherent benefits that’s good for everyone to have a more diverse work environment. There is a greater interest, I think in Canada that has been heightened recently in decolonization and issues around reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, greater attention to the unique challenges of Black-led or Black, Indigenous, or people of colour workers being heard and also reflected in the nonprofit sector and attracted to the sector as a place that would be a meaningful, important place for them to spend their careers.

So the other aspect, which I think goes more unnoticed, especially recently, has been the importance of attracting and accommodating people with disabilities into the sector. You know, I think that there’s a heightened awareness in the nonprofit sector versus the for-profit because of the nature of the kind of work that the nonprofits do. But the recent events that we’ve seen globally, but certainly in North America have been encouraging in the sense that we’ve seen a greater awareness. But of course there’s continuing problems. We have the hope that with the greater attention to these issues that were especially evident during the pandemic that we can sort of really transform it into meaningful action that can have ongoing change to support these mandates and this desire to continue to evolve the way that we work and the organizations that make up the nonprofit sector in Canada.

Lama Alsafi (11:37): Does CharityVillage have any resources for organizations who are looking to take action to improve or bolster their diversity and inclusion efforts within their organizations?

Mary Barroll (11:48): Yeah, actually we had just published or started publishing a five-part article series in Village Vibes with accompanying webinar that we had on diversity, equity and inclusion. It started in late 2019 and continued into 2020. So that’s still available on our website, it can be searched and you can find those materials in our database. We’ve done lots of articles and a book review about a book that was recently released, called Collecting Courage, which features 14 Black Canadian fundraisers and leaders of nonprofit organizations across Canada. So that’s really some very inspiring stories and great resources as well. We’ve also been really busy in production of adding to and enriching the e-learning courses that we offer on CharityVillage, including one that we’re hard at work on, on diversity, equity and inclusion that’s to launch in 2021. And, you know, we’re often featuring thought podcasts, that focus on these issues quite a bit, especially in the last few years. And certainly in 2020, as this had such heightened awareness that occurred over the past year, especially with the kinds of issues and problems in our society that were revealed really by the impact of the pandemic. I think that these, this is a heightened period, and we’re hoping that these kinds of resources can support people who want to make a change going forward into the future.

Lama Alsafi (13:22): And finally, what can our listeners who are interested in working in the nonprofit sector do to get started, whether they’re just starting out in the workforce or making a career shift, what’s your best advice for them?

Mary Barroll (13:34): Well first of all, I think the easiest thing to do would be just to subscribe to our newsletter, called Village Vibes, on our website. And, you know, there’s a lot of resources that in our database, that talk a lot about the various opportunities and the kind of trends that are going on in working in the nonprofit sector, they could consider. You know, enrolling in one of our e-learning courses. We’ve got lots on fundraising and grant seeking, running a board, how to manage and operate nonprofit organizations, how to manage volunteering. Follow us on social media. But really, I think for a lot of people, the best way to get started might be just simply to volunteer and get some firsthand experience, you know, get their feet wet to try and work with organizations that they feel passionate about. It’s important to have that sort of work experience on your resumé because that experience for, you know, hiring managers or recruiters in the nonprofit sector really is very meaningful. You know, and I think that there’s so many ways to have an impact that, you know, starting with volunteering is an awesome way to really get your feet wet and understand the nature of how nonprofits work and the wonderful people that are in it, and to see whether you fit in the nonprofit sector and how your career might develop over time.

Lama Alsafi (14:57): Thank you so much Mary, that’s really great advice. And I want to thank you for your time today, and thanks for coming on and talking about an area that so many of our listeners are interested in.

Mary Barroll (15:08): Well, it’s been my absolute pleasure and I hope to connect with you again.

Lama Alsafi (15:13): Thank you, Mary. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date on our latest episodes of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify iTunes, and by visiting care.ca/podcast.