1. It's true—you'll probably make less money. But while nonprofits generally pay less than their for-profit counterparts, salaries in the sector vary widely, and smart nonprofits strive to pay competitive salaries and benefits so that they can hire strong talent.
2. Nonprofits often have fewer resources for other things too. Often—but not always—you'll find nonprofit organizations have less money for office space, staff expansion, training, and equipment. Part of life in this environment is making due with less.
3. Commitment matters. Nonprofits often look for job candidates who care deeply about the issue they work with, and who won't see the work simply as a job. You're going to spend every day working to change the world. If you're not enthusiastic about that change, you'll probably be happier somewhere else.
4. … But commitment alone won't get you the job. If you have passion for the issue but lack the skills to do the job well, that passion won't take you very far. Because nonprofits are often smaller and have fewer resources, employees who don't perform at a high level will be noticed quickly—and at a well-run organization, replaced.
5. If you're expecting a more laid-back or less rigorous work environment, you might be disappointed. Many nonprofits are fast-paced, demanding, and disciplined; in fact, there's a growing movement toward accountability and rigor in measuring results and impact.
6. Nonprofit work doesn't have to mean dishing out food in a soup kitchen, walking dogs at an animal shelter, or other direct service work (although it can). There's a wide range of nonprofit jobs—you can work as an accountant, event planner, Web designer, manager, editor, researcher, or almost any other job that you find in the private sector.
7. Nonprofits can afford to be picky about who they hire. The sector generally attracts large pools of well-qualified candidates who want to feel their work is making a difference. Among nonprofits that pay competitively, the competition for jobs is often fierce.
8. Funding can control everything. It's not unusual to find particular positions in a nonprofit funded by a grant. If that grant goes away, so do those jobs. So make sure that you're clear on the organization's finances and how your particular position would be funded.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.