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Make a Big Impact with a Small Nonprofit Team

Though most of the headlines (and major donations) go to huge, global nonprofits like the Red Cross, small nonprofits make up the majority of registered nonprofits worldwide. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, three-quarters of American nonprofits have budgets under $1 million (most are even smaller). And nearly 80 percent (100,000) of registered charities in England and Wales have an income of less than £100,000. In small organizations, emerging nonprofit professionals — as well as experienced social service veterans — can find rewarding and career-building opportunities, including:

1. Solving problems that might otherwise go unnoticed

Workers at small nonprofits get the opportunity to make a difference for groups that may be too small for large organizations to home in on. Small organizations and the services they provide are needed more than ever, partly due to government cutbacks and reduction in funding.

For example, a small organization may raise money and awareness for a rare form of cancer or genetic disease. "Small nonprofits fill a critical gap in social service provision in that they address the pressing social care needs of pockets of families and individuals who are underserved by the traditional, 'big box' service systems," says Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, CEO of MissionBox. "These small organizations target special demographic groups, niche problems, and/or emerging community concerns."

2. Working alongside leadership and developing your interests

At a small nonprofit, your career will likely grow alongside the organization. There are also fewer layers of bureaucracy, although resource considerations may limit staff training and development. But even in entry-level positions, workers get the chance to be creative and make decisions that matter. Alex Hayes, head of projects and fund development at the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) says, "Working for a small charity gives a much greater sense of satisfaction that you're making a real impact."

Pamela Plaza, an expert in marketing and business in the social sector says: "Personal career growth can be faster in small nonprofits, foundations, and charities — since they have a relatively flat organizational structure, you usually work closely with top leaders."

3. Putting down roots in your community

The largest nonprofits in the world are often thousands of miles away from the people they serve and the donors and volunteers who support their work. When you work for a small nonprofit, you will personally get to know the donors, volunteers, and service recipients.

Erik Hanberg, author and blogger at ForSmallNonprofits.com, experienced firsthand the personal and professional benefits of working locally. "One of the great things about working at a small nonprofit was getting to work with people all over the community," Hanberg writes. "Within a couple of years of that first job, I had a surprisingly wide network of friends and acquaintances. This came in handy when I applied for a job (at another small nonprofit) because it turned out I already knew a couple of board members, thanks to my first job. There’s no way I would have been hired at the age of 23 to run a nonprofit if I didn’t have that wide network in the community."

4. Providing culturally-aware social services

Large organizations that aren’t "on the ground" with a specific population or problem often aren’t equipped to deal with the nuances of unique community issues. In The Huffington Post, Melissa Kushner, the Founder and Executive Director of a small nonprofit that supports orphanages in Southern Africa, writes: "small nonprofits tend to bring an intimacy with the challenges faced in particular communities, which are culturally specific and unique." As the benefits of culturally-competent social work, and even fundraising, become more and more apparent, small local nonprofits may be increasingly depended on for effective service provisions.

5. Having a flexible schedule

Many small nonprofits offer telecommuting and flexible schedules to accommodate work-life balance. Gregory Merrill is the CEO and president of the National Older Worker Career Center, a small nonprofit (24 employees) that was rated number one in the The NonProfit Times "Best Nonprofits to Work For" list in 2014 and 2015. "We look at it with an open mind when it comes to flexible work arrangements. When the staff is able to participate, and increases their investment in NOWCC too; it’s part of why they believe this is a good place to work," he told NPT.

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MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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