The other side of the fence

What it’s like to work in the non-profit sector, and the unexpected benefits of your CSR program

By Karen Malone, Founder, LitPark

It’s the holiday season and at this time of year so many think about charitable gifts.   Our contributions have such impact because of the emotion of the season and there are so many that are in need.  It’s also a relevant choice as we begin to move away from heightened consumerism practices where we prefer to make a donation, instead of purchasing fast fashion and plastic products.

The focus on charity at this time of year is a godsend for the non-profit sector. It brings awareness and reminds people of the organizations that without donor contributions could not deliver important social and environmental programs vital to the livelihood of our communities.

A part of the story that doesn’t get told is the people behind the scenes, the employees at non-profits that make magic happen.  We thought we would lift the curtain and share some insight into what it’s like to work in non-profit, and reveal some surprising impacts that CSR programs have for non-profit employees and their corporate partners.

What’s it like to work in the non-profit sector?

Working at a charity is not glamorous; there are no advanced technology systems that assist with innovation, they do not have sparkling kitchens with cafeteria options to make the employees lifestyles simpler and there are no beer carts on Friday afternoons to reward the week’s work.  Budgets are limited and rarely expand providing for only the basics.  Most often their success is dependent on extensive and powerful volunteer networks that contribute thousands of hours of unpaid help.

The employees at non-profits create access to education, medical support, arts and culture experiences and the preservation of our environment all of which have incredibly high value.   Without the teams at Canadian Blood Services, cancer patients, transplant patients and accident victims would have no lifeline.  The counselors at Kids Help Phone gives Canadian youth the chance to get the support they need 24/7.  

What kinds of people work at charities? 

I worked in the charitable sector for many years; it’s filled with the most passionate people I have ever met.  They’re committed, smart and creative and almost always know intrinsically they were put on this planet to make a difference.  In the absence of luxurious supports and resources, they work creatively, often in the face of complications, to create value daily making sure the organization’s programs help or stop harm for those who need it.  They compete day in and day out for investments when economic impacts are preventing donors and corporations to support.  

Partnering with a non-profit can add value to both charities and businesses

Today 80-85% of an organization is made up of intangible value like people, brand value and social impact.  That is a huge difference from 20 years ago where only 15-20% of an organization’s value could not be directly measured.   

Many organizations already have, or are considering, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. A well implemented CSR program can add measurable value to an organization by building brand capital and boosting employee engagement and retention rates, amongst other things. 

Value creation is often why a corporation pursues partnerships with non-profits.  A business that authentically aligns with a non-profit’s mission can create an impactful shared outcome and demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility.  

This is an effective way to redefine a corporate culture based on a higher purpose. A little-considered benefit of this, other than those described above, is the ability of non-profit and corporate employees to learn from each other.  

There is no denying the impact of the work that gets done in non-profits.  The resourcefulness of their employees in solving problems, and willingness to adopt creative and innovative approaches, makes them a unique and compelling partner in professional development. They bring results and outcomes that have been driven by a unique perspective, together with an exceptional work ethic.  

In turn, corporate teams can often teach charitable partners things that may fall outside their realm of experience, such as process management techniques that improve efficiency, organizational design insights to build cooperation and reduce silos, or financial management approaches to make the most out of every donor dollar.

This motivation from a corporate partner breathes new life into the non-profit teams bringing depth to its reach and bench strength to tackle the problem. Partnerships with these shared results are the epitome of a true CSR success story.  


Karen is a Certified Sustainability Practitioner and has years of senior leadership in CSR designing practical and meaningful approaches to address the unmet social and economic needs of communities across Canada.

You can get in touch with her here.