Working with a nonprofit is a little like going to a foreign country where the people speak English. At first everything looks pretty familiar. There are obvious differences, of course: cars drive on the "wrong" side of the road; they eat porridge instead of corn flakes; they wear "braces" where we wear suspenders. But you smile at those eccentricities – they're charming deviations in people who are otherwise kindred spirits. It's only as you stick around – read the papers, watch the "telly," get to know a "bloke" or two – that you realize the differences go deeper than you'd originally thought.
What's different, of course, is the culture—the values, the outlooks, the ways of approaching problems, the ways of relating to people—the millions of invisible things that make the country what it is. And of course precisely because they're invisible, those are the things that trip you up. You laugh at the wrong lines, you speak at the wrong moments, you move ahead when others wait and wait when others move ahead. Before long, you find yourself thinking, "It's so frustrating in this country! Why don't they do things the way we do?"
Eventually, if you're flexible, you realize the key to a successful visit is to learn a little of the culture and to stop expecting everything to be like home. Once you do that, you can appreciate the differences and get the most out of your visit.
Working with a nonprofit is similar. The outward differences—smaller offices, smaller budgets, smaller salaries—mask fundamental cultural differences underneath. Those differences are not impenetrable. In fact, they are quite negotiable. Some of them – like the nonprofit focus on mission – are the reason you've chosen to partner with a nonprofit in the first place. With a little patience and a little guidance, you should navigate quite smoothly. To help you, we offer a "traveler's guide" to the world of nonprofits.