Transitioning to the Nonprofit Sector

According to Paul Gietzel and Pamela Cook in Advancing Philanthropy (March/April 2011), today there are increased numbers of private sector employees who want to work in nonprofit organizations.  Every week, The Chronicle of Philanthropy features interesting people who are moving from successful business careers into the nonprofit world.

However, nonprofit organizations have found that private sector employees often experience tough challenges in making this transition.  Below are recommendations from Gietzel and Cook about how to make a successful switch.

1.      Talk to others who have made the transition.  Find out what they have found most rewarding and most challenging about making the switch.

2.      Determine what kinds of nonprofit organizations excite you.  Where would you like to work in the nonprofit sector?  What are your job and your volunteer interests?

3.      Evaluate your job skills and experiences.  There are many different positions in nonprofit organizations in programs and administration.  Figure out those positions that match your job experience, skills, and interests.

4.      Get experience in the nonprofit sector.  Learn more about the nonprofit sector by volunteering, serving on a board or committee, or raising money for your alma mater or favorite organization.  Volunteering will not only build your resume, but it will help you better understand what kind of nonprofit work you would like to do.

5.      Develop a realistic expectation of the work environment and salaries in the nonprofit sector.  Unless you are working for a large and very successful nonprofit organization, your work environment and salary are likely to be different from the private sector.  Determine whether this new work environment is for you.

6.      Do your homework.  Nonprofit organizations will expect you to be very committed to their missions.  Make sure that you are comfortable with a nonprofit’s mission before you consider applying for a position.

7.      Be patient.  In today’s economy, switching to the nonprofit sector may take time.  Explore your options carefully, network with nonprofit professionals, and become more informed about the many books and Web sites that can help you make the transition.

People have different motivations for switching from the private to the nonprofit sectors.  Determine your motivation, what kinds of nonprofit organizations or fields really interest you, and figure out how to make a successful transition that will benefit both you and your new organization.  You can forge a rewarding career in the nonprofit sector, but it will take planning, realistic expectations, and dedication to make the switch.

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