Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are similar to other employers, with a few key differences. Ted Beck, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education, says about his transition to a nonprofit, “I’ve traded the firm handshakes of closing a business deal to offering reassurance, encouragement and occasionally a box of tissues,” (The Wall Street Journal, 2016). More than any other sector, NPOs are fueled by passion. They frequently require working nights and weekends, and compensation varies widely by the organization and job title. But they also present a unique opportunity for people to contribute to a cause that’s meaningful to them. Many executives and senior-level professionals find NPOs exceptionally rewarding, not just monetarily but also when it comes to emotional fulfillment.
If you’re considering moving into the nonprofit sector, here’s what you should know making the transition as smooth as possible.
How to Transition Your Career From a Corporation to a Nonprofit
1. Demonstrate your ability to self-govern and take the lead on projects.
Compared to corporate businesses, nonprofits might seem under-resourced and offer smaller paychecks. Donations can be inconsistent, and qualifying for public funding is usually contingent on meeting predetermined benchmarks. It’s not unusual for NPOs to be lean or even understaffed.
As a result, the people at nonprofits sometimes work long hours and are asked to fill multiple roles—but they also usually find greater autonomy and decision-making power. To demonstrate you’re prepared, highlight your leadership, public speaking, and delegation skills during the interview and in your resume. It will also be helpful to discuss what initiatives you’ve taken in former roles.
2. Build a professional dossier that spans a variety of work experiences.
Your application materials should emphasize your functional expertise and not just the industries where you’ve previously worked. Nonprofit organizations are interested in candidates who know a little about everything and wear more than one hat. People skills, in particular, are high in demand because most positions involve fundraising. Every employee at a nonprofit is an organization ambassador.
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3. Volunteer for a cause you believe in.
If you don’t already have a target NPO in mind, look at the Council on Foundations website, which lists organizations by location, and GuideStar, which is a nonprofit database and reporting platform. Choose potential employers with a mission that aligns with your beliefs—any previous involvement in the cause is an essential discussion point with your candidacy. If possible, volunteer at the nonprofit to which you’re applying, or serve as a board member at a similar agency. After you’ve established a rhythm with a volunteer coordinator or other contact, ask about other ways to contribute.
4. Tailor your resume.
When you decide what information to include in your resume, it’s important to highlight the following:
- Examples of your work with multiple stakeholders.
- Details about revenue generation.
- Clear value proposition that’s specific to your target organization.
- Specific metrics that describe the range, scale, and frequency of your work.
- Superb communication skills and emotional intelligence.
5. Find a mentor who already works with nonprofits.
The nonprofit network is small but welcoming if you prove your commitment to the cause. Working with a mentor can help you make connections and generate new opportunities. A mentor can also help you understand, for example, 501(c) tax law, donor acquisition, and what it’s like to work for a nonprofit.
Most nonprofits won’t become a “port in the storm” in a tumultuous job market, but a membership with Ivy Exec can help you develop the competitive edge you need. To learn more about working with an NPO, work with a mentor from the Ivy Exec network. For help honing your resume and application materials before applying to a role, schedule a complimentary one-on-one consultation with a career advisor today.
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