Considering a Transition to Nonprofit?
As executive placement professionals working exclusively in the nonprofit sector, we receive a number of calls each week from people inquiring about how to cross the bridge from the corporate to the voluntary, charitable, or nonprofit sector.
If you’ve decided to make the journey, here are some suggestions how to begin, and how to make the trip a successful one.
Know the Territory
To ensure your career transition is successful, you need to make a commitment and invest in the journey. Individuals of all ages and in all types of positions will need to put some concentrated time, effort, and financial resources into crossing the bridge.
You should know that nonprofits, like any other workplace, vary substantially in their financial resources, working environments and organizational culture. If you make the transition, keep in mind that a nonprofit may not necessarily be the kinder, gentler place that you may think it will be. Non-profits may have different pressures than the ones you may be accustomed to, but they are still pressures.
Map the Journey
If you do decide to make the journey, here are some steps that you can take to ensure that it goes as smoothly as possible.
- Make connections – Nonprofit organizations, whether they are hospitals, universities, disease/health organizations, or arts groups, are about people. Speak to people who you know working in nonprofits as employees or volunteers and make contact with professional associations.
- Educate yourself – Once you’ve made contact with individuals in the nonprofit world, learn more about how their organizations work, the challenges they face, and the positions available within them. This will give you a better understanding of what types of jobs and organizations are out there and what type of organization and direction that you would like to pursue. The Internet is also an excellent source of information and some useful websites are under Additional Resources
- Show your commitment – Nonprofit organizations are also about commitment to a cause. Donating your time and expertise to a nonprofit will not only help you to make connections with other professionals and demonstrate your commitment to prospective employers, but it will also help you to decide if the nonprofit world is for you.
- Get credentials – If you are like most individuals who are contemplating a change to the nonprofit world, you already hold one or more degrees. Depending on your particular situation and the type of job you are applying for, you may need to get additional credentials to be competitive in the labour market. For example, if you are currently in communications and want to move to a position in fundraising, the CFRE designation or courses at a community college may be necessary.
- Look critically – Once you’ve decided on the type of job and organization you want, you’ve taken some courses and updated your skills, you are almost ready to embark on your job search. At this point, you need to take a critical look at your resume and cover letter, and/or enlist a friend or professional resume writer to help you. In my practice, I see quite a few resumes, from individuals coming from positions at all levels, who do not address the employer’s needs as they are outlined in the job ad. This is a critical flaw that may land your resume in the rejection pile, even if you are qualified for the job. Nonprofits are busy organizations, and whoever is doing the recruiting will likely not have much time to review your resume, so make sure it’s organized, to the point and highlights the skills and experience you have that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
- Keep learning – This is a time of challenge and change for Canadian nonprofits with increasing competition for resources and higher expectations for openness, professionalism, and clear financial management. Make a commitment to invest in your professional development. Take courses, read industry and business publications and join applicable professional associations to keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date.
Additional Resources – Selected Websites
- Drucker, Peter F. Managing the Nonprofit Organization: Principles and Practices. New York: Harper Collins, 1990. (ISBN 0-88730-601-2)
- Greenfield, James M. ed. The Nonprofit Handbook, Second Edition. Toronto: John John Wiley and Sons Inc., 1997. (ISBN 0-471-15658-2)
- King, Richard M. From Making a Profit to Making a Difference: How to Launch Your New Career in Nonprofits. River Forest, IL: Planning/Communications, 1999. (ISBN 1-884587-17-8)
- Nanus, Burt and Stephen M. Dobbs. Leaders Who Make a Difference: Essential Strategies for Meeting the Non-rofit Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999. (ISBN 0-7879-4665-6)
- Lord, James Gregory. The Raising of Money: Thirty Five Essentials Every Trustee Should Know. Cleveland: Third Sector Press, 1990. (ISBN 0-939120-02-X)
- Wagner, Lilya. Careers in Fundraising. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002. (ISBN 0-471-40359-8)