What’s Your Next Move?

Making the switch from for-profit to nonprofit

An unprecedented demand for social services, a rapidly retiring workforce, and a shortage in experienced successors all contribute to a growing employee deficit in the nonprofit sector, reports The Bridgespan Group, a strategic consulting firm serving the philanthropic community.

Even in a collapsed economy, nonprofits must continue to hire new employees to keep pace with long-term, structural industry changes that will outlast this temporary downturn, says Lisa Brown Morton, president and CEO of Nonprofit HR Solutions, a Washington D.C.-based human resources search firm.

“As we lose jobs in areas like financial services, real estate consulting, and the automobile industry, there is growth in healthcare, education, and environmental work,” she adds.

The Bridgespan Group estimates nonprofits will need to employ as many as 640,000 new senior managers by the year 2016.

“These can be exciting opportunities for corporate executives looking for viable, stable, and promising careers,” says Morton.

She points out that many of today’s nonprofits recruit for similar positions and skill sets as their for-profit counterparts.

These emerging synergies between for- and nonprofit sectors—resulting from efforts in innovation, efficiency, and quality––allow for more professionals to envision and pursue careers that make a positive difference in the world.
Ready to make the switch?  Not quite so fast, cautions Morton.

“Going from private to nonprofit is not seamless,” she warns. “This is more than simply changing jobs; this is a change in work style.”

Morton offers this advice for ensuring a smooth transition:

Look before leaping. Research the nonprofit sector beforehand. Understand its challenges—both financial and human. Talk with nonprofit executives and board members. Review the latest industry news in the Nonprofit Times, the Chronicle of Philanthropy or online at GuideStar.org. Volunteer with agencies most like those for which you want to work.

Check your ego at the door. “Humility will go a long way in this environment,” says Morton. She notes that while nonprofit senior management may receive comparable pay, they often go without substantial support staff and robust budgets. Be prepared to take a “hands on” approach to work with limited resources and recognition.

Expect a steep learning curve. “Raising money and making money are very different activities,” explains Morton. She asserts that even the savviest corporate executives will need to spend time learning how things get done, how decisions are made, and how issues are addressed in the nonprofit arena. Find a mentor.  Join industry associations.

This story originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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