How working for a nonprofit taught me the art of prioritizing

I’ve been in the nonprofit world for more than six years now. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a schedule that allows me to work part-time, so I have the time to do things like bear children, take grad classes and do some freelance writing and website design work.

The benefits offered by nonprofits are usually pretty good, including generous time off and an understanding staff that don’t question you when you have to deal with sick kids or the occasional inconveniently timed personal appointment.

While the pay may not be great, you do get the satisfaction of doing something good in the world. You know your work has a positive impact on someone’s life out there.

The thing with working for a nonprofit is that you never know what will happen next. You might get a million dollar grant one day and a huge budget cut the next. You might be focused on one project and then have to completely scrap it for another that was deemed more important.

I have a notebook of ideas and projects that I just can’t quite get to yet.

Part of the problem is that many nonprofits have staff that take on multiple roles. I think I’ve made people’s heads spin when I explain what I do.

Being a nonprofit, the goal is to put the money into the programs and services, not the operations. This often translates into slimmer budgets, staff taking on more responsibilities and the necessity to run fast and efficient.

Because of all of this, I’ve found that I’m much better at letting things go. I’ve had to get used to putting things on the back burner and hoping to get back to them. It’s frustrating, but I deal with it.

What I’ve found is that sometimes those things really do belong on the back burner. Sometimes, I’m pretty relieved that I didn’t go through with a project because something else came up that was more important and actually made a bigger impact.

While I’ve never been the most patient person in the world, dealing with the fast-paced, ever-changing dynamics of a nonprofit have forced me to stop and think about every step I take. Is this worth the time? Should I be focusing on another issue?

Learning to, and really needing to, prioritize my time and my to-do list on a daily basis has translated into more patience and understanding in my normal life.

Those kinks in the schedule can be handled. Things don’t seem as bad when they don’t go as expected.

Oh yeah. And I can sleep well at night.

Cross-posted from
art, music, parenting, philanthropy and other musings from a working mom in brunswick, maine


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