The nation’s nonprofits employ roughly one in ten American workers, according to a 2013 survey by Nonprofit HR Solutions, and job growth and wages in the nonprofit sector have outpaced business or government hiring and pay increases since 2008.
That means there are ample opportunities for corporate workers motivated by a desire to do work that makes a difference to make the change into the nonprofit field. A strong passion for a cause that might be arts and culture, the environment or international aid can be the inspiration for people to reconsider their current career path and instead decide on something close to their hearts.
Making the transition into an entirely new sector can be challenging and involves more than simply submitting a resume. Professionals must be able to sell themselves by gaining volunteer experience in the nonprofit sector and showcasing their private-sector skills in ways that match the needs of nonprofit hiring managers. Successful candidates are able to display high levels of flexibility, empathy, analytical skills and innate leadership characteristics.
How to Transition from a Profit to a Nonprofit Career
Shifting from a for-profit to a nonprofit career might not be simple, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Professionals can use the following 10 tips from Idealist Careers to assist in the transition:
- Learn as Much as Possible: Talk with workers at a variety of nonprofits that are different sizes and have a range of missions. The more information gathered about the difference between small and large organizations and the inner workings of different groups, the better equipped you’ll be to make an informed career choice.
- Network Extensively: This can be part of the previous step by using contacts with nonprofit organizations as connections for networking. Volunteering is one way to not only become familiar with how nonprofits operate, but also to build your network. Performing volunteer work also provides experience, shows you care about the organization’s mission and is a way to demonstrate your abilities and skills. Serving on nonprofit boards is also very important, and good board members are always in high demand.
- Don’t Take Rejection Personally: Finding work in the nonprofit industry will likely take time, as hiring managers may often be skeptical of those with a long resume from a for-profit career. Some nonprofits are not accustomed to looking to the for-profit sector as a source for new hires.
- Make Motives Clear: Trust can be built with hiring managers by clearly stating a strong desire to transition into the nonprofit world for good - not as just another rung on your career ladder. Directors of some nonprofits may believe you’ll leave the minute a better position elsewhere appears or you are just awaiting the chance to return to the for-profit sector.
- Demonstrate Lasting Dedication: Volunteer experience is one way to make it clear you’re ready to make a permanent change. Explain that exposure to the nonprofit sector made you want to do something entirely different from your previous career. Make it clear you are dedicated to the organization’s cause and you intend to stay in the nonprofit sector.
- Get Ready to Start at the Bottom: Entering the nonprofit world may mean taking entry-level jobs, or at least below your former position in the corporate world. Be clear that you are willing to do this. There will be time later to talk about advancement. Climbing the nonprofit ladder takes time. Professionals should be prepared to accept a lower level position than the one they’re currently holding. (see How to Move up in a Nonprofit Organization)
- Prepare to Make Less Money: Salary is typically a major trade-off during the transition, as nonprofit work is meaningful but typically produces a smaller paycheck. Be ready to explain your willingness to make less money in return for working with an organization whose cause is important.
- Put Relevant Skills on Display: Many nonprofits may not have access to workers with skills in finance, accounting, human resources, IT or marketing and may not have positions for those specialties. Explain what you can offer the organization and why your skills are valuable and can be put to use, even if they are not included in the description of the specific job you are trying to get.
- Combat Stereotypes: Some nonprofit organizations may view candidates from for-profit industries as high maintenance, impatient with nonprofit culture and expecting to receive cushy perks more common in the corporate world. Some organizations also may believe people with a for-profit background think they know all the answers. It’s important to take the initiative to combat these stereotypes by addressing them from the start, ensuring there are no expectations for “extras.”
- Plan to Work Hard: Nonprofits, especially smaller organizations, rely on everyone to pitch in to get the job done. This may mean putting in long hours and taking on new responsibilities outside your comfort level.
It takes a bit of time to shift from a for-profit career into the nonprofit world, but it can be worth the wait. Those who truly want to do work they’re passionate about can achieve much greater career satisfaction by putting in the effort to break into this different sector.
A way to ease the transition into the nonprofit sector, as well as refine leadership skills and prepare yourself for a management role in nonprofits, is to register in advanced education courses offered through the University of Notre Dame’s Executive Certificate in Transformational Nonprofit Leadership program.
Learn and improve your nonprofit results with a 100% online course from Notre Dame’s top professors who are fully engaged in the nonprofit field. Add this credential to your resume – Executive Certificate in Transformational Nonprofit Leadership. Click this now for an overview of what you will learn in the course.
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