Ted Trabue knew he was ready for a career change. In 2002, his company, Washington, D.C.-based Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco), completed its merger with Conectiv, a regional energy delivery company. By June 2005, Trabue—vice president responsible for Pepco’s legislative and community affairs, strategic accounts, and economic development—realized that the merger would not allow him to advance any further within the company. Trabue questioned whether he should stay in corporate America or find a way to make a difference. Reflecting on his status, he found himself drawn to addressing the city’s significant unemployment problem and environmental agenda.
Trabue chose to leave Pepco five months later. By early 2008, he and two partners officially established the Green Builders Council of DC (www.builditgreendc.org), a nonprofit that trains workers in eco-friendly construction. Considered one of the city’s largest and most innovative green training programs, GBDC operates the project on a budget of about $990,000 in partnership with Goodwill of Greater Washington.
When transitioning into the nonprofit sector, Trabue, 49, had to tap into his background of budgeting and programming skills. “Typically, when you go into a small nonprofit like mine, you become 10 different departments. You need to hone your research skills and have strong administrative, organizational, and networking skills,” he adds.
Opportunities for Professionals
If you are interested in combining your professional abilities with the prospect of making social change, then a position at a nonprofit organization may be for you. President Obama’s recent call for more citizens to become actively involved in their communities has sparked great interest within the field. Also, there’s a need for skilled job seekers as individuals coping with a tough economy turn to nonprofits for unemployment assistance, workforce development, healthcare, housing, and food distribution. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wage and salary jobs are projected to increase 14% over the next decade.
To date, there are approximately 1.4 million nonprofit organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service, mostly as 501( c ) (3) tax exempt “public charities,” under the following categories: charities, foundations, social welfare, or advocacy organizations; community-based organizations; professional and trade associations; and religious organizations. Nonprofits are also classified by social areas such as education, health and human services, international and foreign affairs; environment, arts, culture and humanities.
As a result of the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery, the sector has been adjusting to a myriad of opportunities and challenges. With tight budgets and a weak fundraising environment, organizations are learning to do more with less.
Those with backgrounds in finance, information technology, and sales can find opportunities, according to Yazad Dalal, executive vice president of sales, strategy, and corporate development for Vault.com, an online resource for career management and job search information. He further stresses that although wages may be low for entry-level posts, senior management and mid-level positions are competitive with salaries at major corporations. “For a nonprofit to find the best quality chief financial officer, they have to pay pretty close to what the average CFO would make in that part of the country,” he explains. In fact, Dalal’s organization has realized an increase of M.B.A. graduates entering nonprofit organizations instead of financial firms over the past two years.
Required Education, Skills, and Training
Candidates that have a diverse work background are welcome in the field. As with most fields, the more education and experiences you have the better. Although it’s not a prerequisite, a number of nonprofit managers and directors hold graduate degrees related to their organization’s thrust. For example, advanced degrees may be in social work, criminal justice, or other sociology fields.
Required skills vary based on available positions. Applicants should, however, have exceptional analytical skills as well as excellent written and verbal communication skills. They should also have the ability to collaborate in a team-oriented environment and fully understand a given organization’s mission and constituency. Even though it may be unrelated to your core responsibilities, you must be comfortable with fundraising. The upside of working for nonprofits is the opportunity for professional development and advancement. “An ongoing focus in nonprofits is what we call capacity building: professional development for employees at every level, because there is a need for you to be so dynamic and well trained in a number of disciplines, says Glen O’Gilvie, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Center for Nonprofit Advancement, a membership association that hosts professional development and training sessions. “You will get cross training in various skills.”
Obviously, hiring managers will be also attracted to candidates who have expertise that’s beneficial to the organization. But if you don’t have experience specific to your target organization, you may still emerge as a strong candidate. “If you are an experienced financial professional who wants to work with underprivileged children but has no experience doing so, find ways to apply your finance background to an organization that can benefit from it,” he says.
Finding the Hot Jobs
Jobs in nonprofit fall under two categories: operations, which include fundraising and financial management, and programs, which involves ensuring a given organization fulfills its mission. Positions currently in demand are:
n Executive Director: This position is of the greatest demand because of large numbers of baby boomers retiring from the workforce. They are primarily responsible for reporting to the board of directors, strategic planning, and financial management. Depending on the size of the organization, they may be involved with other job functions such as program development.
Salary range: $75,000 and up
— Program Director: Implements activities in line with the organization’s mission. This may include hiring personnel, fundraising, public relations, and other administrative and management duties.
Salary range: $45,000–$65,000
–Director of Development (Fundraising): Develops strategies to gain funding for the organization and is often the public face of the nonprofit.
Salary Range: $41,000–$69,000
–Other employment options include chief financial officer (salary range $87,000 and up), advocacy directors (salary range: $39,000–$76,000), grant writers (salary range: $35,000–$50,000), and communication directors (salary range: $46,000–$89,000).
Salaries vary based on the location, organization type and size, and budget. For example, a director of development at an arts, educational, and social service organization with a budget of $2.1 million to $5 million in Washington, D.C., could earn $80,000–$90,000, according to a salary chart published by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. A vice president or director of information technology—organization type, location, and budget being equal—could earn $60,000–$70,000.
Your Job Search
Before embarking in this area, evaluate causes that you are passionate about. Research the issues and be willing to move outside of your comfort zone in terms of responsibilities.
Volunteering, interning, and networking at events your target nonprofit is hosting represent the best ways to get your foot in the door. Angela Jones Hackley, vice president of community investment for The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Washington, D.C., advises that you conduct informational interviews and ask questions related to the organization’s mission and successful campaigns as well as the skills set most needed.
Also consider nonprofit recruiters such as Professionals for Nonprofits (www.nonprofitstaffing.com) to apply to work temporarily as a trial run at an organization before committing yourself. You can find a list of nonprofit state associations through the National Council of Nonprofits (www.councilofnonprofits.org).
This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.