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Compare the pair: the not-for-profit vs for-profit business model in ecology

Speaking from experience, most wildlifers are passionate about nature and its conservation – and these values are typically reflected in the marketing of not-for-profit organisations.

Furthermore, some ecologists admit to working for for-profit organizations such as consultancies, or as enviros with industry they receive comments along the lines of “you’ve sold out”, “you’re working for the other side” or labelled “green tapers”, “box tickers” or similar.

Compare the pair: the not-for-profit vs for-profit business model in ecology | #itsawildlife

From my perspective, this is hardly fair – and presents a skewed version of your options for working in the ecology space. We should work to understand before we judge, approach with an open mind – and also respect everyone’s individual choice, rather than look upon some with disdain.

In reality, as many of us come to ecology because of our passion and compassion for nature, this is hardly an invitation to work with for-profits. But this judgement creates an us and them situation and can have a counter effect to that intended.


When we’re talking about the main differences between not-for-profits and for-profit business, I appreciate it’s not strictly comparing apples for apples. However, tax and structure and mission aside, it’s important to recognize that one of the biggest differences is in the business model, how each type generate revenue:

Usually, for-profits sell products and services while not-for-profits operate fundraising”

Other than their business model, and sometimes their missions there are many similarities: both provide various job opportunities for ecologist from entry-level to more senior positions, both can have options to work with wildlife in the field or closer to civilization, both can respect your work-life balance or abuse your passion with long hours or unrealistic expectations…

One is easier to sell than the other.

One usually pays its staff better than the other.

I’ll leave you to match the answers to each of these statements.

Ultimately, we have two models for conducting business within the same industry. And from an impartial perspective, there are pros and cons to working under both systems.


Despite our wild green dreams of living on a planet where we didn’t extract natural resources and depend on fuels, most of us live within the broader system and society that is built on them and relies upon them for functionality. As such, within our current climate, industrial and development projects are happening regardless of our morals.

With this in mind, we have a choice to make: we can work with industry or against it.

Ecologist Nathan Beerkens has spent time working with both not-for-profits and for-profits. As he explained in our coffee chat:

“Working with industry to improve the sustainability of practices is important in the long-term, especially in the planning and recovery stages of a projects life. Collaborating with industry can also help to get good, funded conservation projects off the ground, and contribute to research and science in remote areas.”


For-profits have a better reputation and model for several barriers to people getting involved (or staying involved) in the ecology industry

  • They offer many entry-level positions for graduates, the field components of which can act as crash courses in wildlife identification and handling
  • They usually operate out of towns or cities and so you might not need to move your life permanently away from home
  • They usually pay ecologists their worth
  • They usually operate within office hours, or acknowledge your overtime outside of that
  • They can be based around fifo swings or remote stints

As Nathan said:

“Working as a consultant, you will be paid your worth, you will have a wider range of field opportunities and your work-life balance is more respected so it’s worth considering this sector when you’re up and coming in conservation”.

In conclusion, I have purposely not given much attention to selling not-for-profits in this blog post because, let’s be honest, they tend to sell themselves. If you take one thing away from this, let it be to consider what you think about aspects of the ecology industry – be it for-profit vs not-for-profit models or anything else and ask yourself this:

“Could you be limiting your opportunities based on your limiting beliefs?”


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