Why I Love Non-Profit Culture.

Charitable organizations and the link to career fulfillment.

Corporate culture is a hot topic these days. A recent New York Times article about Amazon’s culture has sparked passionate discussions about career satisfaction:

The most commented story in the history of NY Times

Personal fulfillment is at the core of these discussions. We spend about a third of our adult life working. So, finding a tolerable vocation is essential to personal happiness. Tolerable is acceptable for some, but not all.

A mentor once told me there were three ingredients to career happiness:

  1. Making really good money
  2. Working with amazing people
  3. Supporting a great cause

He said you could tolerate a place if you had one of those — especially the first. But you could make a career if you found two out of three. Twelve years in corporate America never yielded more than one of those ingredients.


I realized that it was possible to combine professional skills and charitable work.

My epiphany occurred after several years of volunteering and freelancing at local non-profits. They were surrounded by amazing people striving to deliver a promise to society. I realized that it was possible to combine professional skills and charitable work. Within a year of this realization, I left corporate America for the charitable non-profit world.

Adjusting to life at a non-profit takes time — material for another article, perhaps. But, having made the adjustment, I can’t image the circumstances that would lead me back to the for-profit world. These are the core reasons why:

The people

In my experience, non-profits attract talented, servant-minded people. They are flush with energy and passion to make a difference. Many of my colleagues work all week — and then volunteer at other organizations on weekends. Serving is in our DNA.

A mission that matters

In Google’s 8 Pillars of Innovation, “having a mission that matters” is a core ingredient of an innovative culture. The principle states:

Work can be more than a job when it stands for something you care about.

Charitable organizations are formed around a goal to make the world a better place.

Impact — Making a dent in the universe

Steve Jobs famously said:

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

Charitable non-profits are focused on outcomes that improve society. For those passionate about having an impact, nothing is more important (or rewarding) than seeing others benefit from their efforts.


Our mission is more important than our challenges.

To be fair, it’s not all roses. Non-profits deal with the same challenges as corporate America: meeting overload, resource constraints, deadlines, etc. And we work every bit as long and hard as any company. But the mission is more important than our challenges. It draws us forward. It unlocks deadlocks. It resolves arguments. It galvanizes teams.

You may have experienced stirrings to know that your work contributes to humanity’s improvement. If so, I encourage you to pursue those feelings: volunteer at a food bank or participate in a fundraising event — there are plenty of opportunities in every community:

And, who knows, you may even find your calling.