Five Ways to Make the Move to Nonprofit

Shifting from the corporate to the nonprofit world is a lot like contemplating a major move – the new town seems prettier, the grass there looks greener. Yet if you haven’t researched your new town or prospective home, the reality could take you by surprise — maybe the school system is floundering, the taxes are high, or the home’s roof leaks.

The same holds true for a change to the nonprofit world; it requires self-reflection, research, and flexibility before hiring the moving truck. Read about five tips to consider before making the switch.

  1. Assess why you want to work in the nonprofit sector. Think about this until you have a clear answer. You may have a passion for saving animals, or fighting climate change, or you may just be tired of lining a corporation’s pockets, but it will help to know what your motivation is. Reflect on the following:
    1. Which sub sector of the not for profit arena interests you the most? (for example, the environment, affordable housing or human services)
    2. Are you interested in working with a direct service organization or an intermediary?
    3. Have you researched different nonprofit business and impact models?
    4. Do you have particular skills or strengths that you would bring from the corporate sector to the not for profit sector?
    5. What are your values and how might a not for profit help you honor those?
    6. Consider what you can get in the nonprofit world that you can’t in the for-profit arena.
    7. Consider what you might miss from the for-profit world (deep knowledge of an industry, etc.)
    8. Make sure you’re willing to put in the time to start over.

Also, just like you need a down payment for a new home, make sure to evaluate your financial situation when considering a switch to nonprofit, and determine if you can absorb any potential salary loss you will experience after bridging. Research compensation levels in organizations through publicly available 990-form data.

  1. learn from others experience

    Learn from others’ experiences. Talk with professionals living in the “nonprofit village” to learn about two areas—(1) moving to the not-for-profit sector and (2) a particular organization you want to explore. You might want to find out how they made the move and what helped them succeed. Use these meetings to learn more about the sector and to hear about potential opportunities for strategic volunteerism or full-time roles. 

  2. Show potential employers that you know what you’re getting into, and understand the differences between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Nonprofit organizations typically incorporate input from a variety of stakeholders in fulfilling their mission. Decisions are often made by consensus. So, demonstrate to potential employers that you have experience working with multi-disciplinary teams and that you have a good understanding of the different not for profit business models.

Nonprofit executives perform many varied functions, because nonprofits run leaner than corporations do. The            end result is you will most likely need to wear many hats at your new job, and teach yourself skills that you need          to know.

  1. Beef up your portfolio of nonprofit experience before you hire the moving truck. A board position or volunteer role can make you look more qualified and attractive to a potential employer.
  1. translate your business skillsTranslate your business skills to fit the nonprofit world and communicate these transferable skills — in conversations, your Linkedin profile and resume, and interviews. In the nonprofit world, many stakeholders, such as the board of directors, donors, or volunteers, have a key role in decision-making (see #3 above.)  If you can manage effectively through influence and collaboration, you’ll be an asset to the team. Make sure you communicate this in your go-to-market materials.

In addition, creativity, flexibility and innovation are valued highly in nonprofit, simply because resource constraints demand these skills.  It’s often about doing less with more in the non-profit world — but knowing the best way to do that is key. Highlight these strengths as well if you have them.

Just like moving to a new town can be a bit scary, starting in an industry with an entirely different business model can be daunting. When you invest ahead of time in preparation and experience, it can be done well. After you’ve settled in your “new home,” you may even forget how things are done in your “old town.”

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