In the early days of the “nonprofit” movement, organizations were usually made up of well-meaning volunteers. There was more of a focus on passion and energy than on professionalism. In recent years, however, the expectations have changed for nonprofit management staff. With more colleges and universities offering academic programs in nonprofit management and a competitive job market, professionalism has become an expectation. Long-time nonprofit workers may wonder what has been lost and what has been gained by this new focus and further wonder how professional a nonprofit staffer should be?
It is becoming increasingly accepted for an individual to build a professional career out of working in and managing nonprofit organizations. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, it was quite common to have nonprofit organizations and projects run solely on commitment and passion. Now, stricter government regulations (for those agencies receiving government funding), public expectations, and general competition have led nonprofits to become increasingly professional. Specialized training in various areas, the need for advanced degrees and ongoing training have all contributed to an increased level of professionalism'”but this is not without conflict.
The level of professionalism should be appropriate for the organization'”it’s culture, board of directors, salaries, etc. It is a bit unreasonable to expect someone with a doctoral degree to head up a tiny grassroots organization with a budget of under $25,000 annually. A good rule of thumb is to consider a combination of education, experience, interest level and commitment to the organization’s mission when evaluating the effectiveness of staff. While individuals will need a certain level of professionalism to work and interact in the community at large, they still also need to balance that with passion for the work. Additionally, staff needs to be able to work with volunteers and board members and to balance the professional expectations with volunteer commitment and enthusiasm.