Nonprofit professionals ARE different….

8 05 2009

What you should know when making the switch from private sector to nonprofit professional.

It’s certainly not a secret that there are a lot of unemployed private sector professionals. Combine that with projections of 23,000 senior management positions going unfilled in the nonprofit sector, and it’s no wonder that management professionals of all kinds are taking a look at the nonprofit world.

 The last post about engagement brought many of them out of the woodwork, asking how to make that switch. Having moved from for-profit to nonprofit seven years ago, and having had conversations with colleagues making similar changes, I can propose a few guidelines to the uninitiated. 

 First of all, the nonprofit world is different from the private sector. The mind set is often different, with a strong focus on commitment to the mission and doing more with less. Frequently the atmosphere is more team oriented in order to ensure the services are delivered, and more people take on jobs that are technically outside of their own bailiwick, just to make sure they get done.

 Less cutthroat? I wouldn’t necessarily put it that way, but I would say that there are fewer Type A personalities.  The nonprofit world is populated by many people for whom success is measured less by high salaries than by how much they can achieve in furthering the mission.  The extra hours they put in – and they certainly do put in a lot of hours! — is to further the mission. The good vibes are incredible, but the work is intense.

Often, to the detriment of their personal lives, nonprofit professionals don’t have the time to volunteer outside their own organization; the extra 20-30 hours per week becomes their volunteer time. Family life may suffer because their board meetings and meetings with volunteers occur in the evenings and weekends, when the volunteers are free from their day jobs. Yet the professionals don’t feel free to start work any later because of the night meetings; they just lengthen their days.

Even in good times, the dollars are just not there to do what needs to be done. When times are tough, administration becomes even leaner. Long term projects are frequently put on hold because it’s hard to get the money to pursue them. Relying on government or foundation grants and private donors makes cash flow unreliable. Donors must be wooed, and can be fickle; many are willing to give for special projects, but not ongoing administrative costs. Yet the light bill must still be paid.

Good ideas are recognized….but not always acted upon. Cost-benefit analysis is a nice idea, but if it means not feeding an orphan because you’re spending for a long-term goal, well, you may be hard pressed to convince the powers that be that the long-term goal is more important. Even if that long-term goal will ultimately make it possible to feed even more orphans.

Yet for all the challenges, there are many, many people for whom the nonprofit world holds a life they wouldn’t trade for any other. Working through the difficulties, and still making a difference in the world is a special reward. 

After reading all this, if you’re still interested in looking at the nonprofit world for a new start, I’m collecting some tips on the process for the next post. Keep reading!





2 responses

8 05 2009
Nonprofit professionals ARE different….

[…] Original post by susandetwiler […]

11 06 2009
Our Best Tips for Starting a New Career | WHAKATE

[…] at the Thoughtful Philanthropist, Susan Detwiler offers words of wisdom on making the switch from the private sector to the nonprofit […]

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