The key qualities you need to succeed in the third sector

Although they’re often referred to as “the third sector,” organisations that work towards helping their communities are just as valuable as those in the first and second sectors—public and private—if not more so.

Without third-sector organisations (TSO), underserved, underdeveloped or forgotten causes and communities would struggle to move forward. TSOs are essential to societal progress because they aid with advocacy, policy changes, financial assistance and the overall health and wellbeing of their communities—issues that are often swept under the rug in the name of profit and progress.

Given the immense value TSOs provide in their communities and beyond, it’s essential that these groups continue to attract, retain and develop high-quality talent to keep the sector growing and improving. However, recent studies have shown that the sector is struggling to accomplish this due to several complex reasons, many of which have to do with funding challenges.

Despite this, 70% of working-age people are actively on the hunt for a career change, and 9 in 10 employees would be willing to swap some monetary compensation in exchange for more meaningful work. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, business thought leader and author Tammy Erickson wrote that “meaning is the new money,” which means more people are looking for work that not only compensates them financially, but also on a mental and emotional level.

“My research has clearly shown that high levels of engagement, and the associated discretionary effort, occur when our work experiences reflect a clear set of values that we share. For many today, meaning is the new money,” Erickson wrote. “It’s what people are looking for at work. Clear company values, translated into the day-to-day work experience, are one of the strongest drivers of an engaged workforce, one primed for successful collaboration.”

If you’re looking to make a career move that will bring more purpose and meaning to your life, you may want to learn more about the key qualities you need to succeed in the third sector. Luckily, many of these qualities are highly transferable from other fields and roles, so there’s a good chance you already possess some (or all!) of them.

To get started, here are a few of the key qualities and skills you’ll likely want to strengthen before diving into a new role at a TSO or launching one of your own:

1. Communication skills

It’s a no-brainer that excellent written and verbal communication skills are essential in nearly every field today. However, in the context of a TSO, they can be particularly valuable.

Third sector organisations are constantly working to spread the word about their mission, and get as many community members as possible involved. Given this, having the ability to communicate a clear and succinct message to the public is essential when it comes to galvanising the community to take action and help out.

Strong communication skills are valuable when it comes to drafting written materials like social media posts, press releases and donor letters. They’re also essential for tasks like fundraising, organising events and stakeholder liaison, so it’s never a bad idea to improve your skills through an educational course, or brushing up on your people skills by attending a networking event.

2. Flexibility and adaptability

Many not-for-profit organisations operate on tight budgets with compact teams, so employees end up wearing multiple different hats, regardless of their title or specialty. This is why having the ability to roll with the punches and pivot quickly is an important quality to have in the third sector.

Like many industries, things can change quickly for TSOs—sudden funding increases or decreases, policy changes, or world events that impact the mission are common. Therefore, being able to think on your feet and come up with solutions to complex problems quickly is essential.

It’s also important to operate with a sense of humility and a willingness to learn new things in the third sector. No task should be “beneath” you, and you should be willing to do things differently and experiment with new methods if necessary.

3. Passion

More of a quality than a skill, passion is the number one trait you’ll need to succeed in the third sector. As we’ve already established, working at a TSO may require sacrifices such as a lower salary or long hours, so feeling a genuine desire to help and contribute to the cause is essential to staying motivated.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you feel called to start a career in the third sector, so it’s just a matter of heeding the call and taking calculated risks. Use your desire to help others and make a difference in the world as fuel for your fire, and always keep your big “why” front and centre.

Interested in learning more about third-sector careers or growing your TSO? Get in touch with us—we’d love to chat!

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