Washington is famous for its liberal lawyers defending big corporations or for former Democratic members of Congress lobbying for conservative interests -- and laughing all the way to the bank.
But in the world of nonprofit organizations, should someone who opposes abortion work for NARAL Pro-Choice America? How about a gun control advocate working for the National Rifle Association? Or, more commonly, should someone sign on with a cause-related nonprofit even though he is indifferent to the issue? Experts in the nonprofit field generally caution against doing so, though they say it partly depends on the type of job involved.
Typically, nonprofits pay less than private-sector organizations, so a big motivating factor in working for one is the chance to make a difference, said Mike Casey, president of Tigercomm, an Oakton-based consulting firm to political campaigns and nonprofits and vice president of the Environmental Working Group in the District. "What keeps you coming is the opportunity to chip away at a big problem that you want to solve," he said.
Just ask Alissa Schulman, media affairs manager at Washington-based NARAL Pro-Choice America. She said she and everyone else in her office strongly support a woman's right to choose an abortion and worry that the Bush administration is "trampling on our rights." As she writes press releases and books media interviews for the organization's interim president, she is driven to work hard because she "cares so much about what can happen with Bush in office," she said.
At NARAL and other issue-oriented nonprofits, the office culture revolves around promoting the cause, and staff members may talk about it all day and into the night, explained Ami Dar, executive director of New York-based Idealist.org, a nonprofit job-matching service. Kim Jones, communications manager at the Reston-based nonprofit National Wildlife Federation, has found that to be true. "There can be great camaraderie at 10 p.m.," when everyone is working together to get legislation passed, she said.
Moreover, if you work for a nonprofit and don't agree with its mission or if you are apathetic, you probably will not do as good a job as someone who is completely committed. Jones grew up reading the Wildlife Federation's Ranger Rick magazine and cares deeply about animals and wildlife preservation. "I couldn't do my job as well if I weren't passionate about the cause," she said.
Contradictions between your personal views and the product or mission you promote at work are often tolerable when you're making a lot of money doing so. But in the nonprofit world, "you're not gonna get rich in a hurry," said John Minges, founder of the North Carolina-based Nonprofitexpert.com Web site.
In addition, prospective applicants who disagree with an organization's cause may not be hired. Neil Sawyer, former human resources manager at the Fairfax-based National Rifle Association, said that while he might hire someone who has the requisite skills and background for a particular job and is indifferent to the organization's agenda, he would not hire someone who is flat-out against it.
Regardless of the type of job you apply for at a nonprofit, you should expect to be asked about your views on the cause the group represents and about how you came to those views -- and you should always respond truthfully, advised Dar of Idealist.org.
However well or poorly you come across in the interview, expect your commitment to the cause to be factored into the hiring decision. "If it's between two candidates and all other things are equal, the organization will take the one who supports the mission over the one who doesn't," Dar said.
But he added that there are exceptions in certain job areas, such as information technology, clerical work or financial operations, where agreeing with the cause is not as essential as it is in communication, fundraising, advocacy and lobbying positions.
Also, at larger nonprofits, there is usually more room to be an hourly wage earner or salaried professional "and then go home," Casey noted, while at smaller organizations everyone, including the interns and receptionists, tends to be highly committed.