Seventeen years ago, I changed the direction of my life when I moved to the nonprofit sector. I made this change due to a longing to find a deeper meaning through my work. Back then, I didn’t know how I wanted to serve, I just knew I was committed to serving. Having worked in finance, fundraising was a natural fit. I enjoyed talking about ideas and change. Most of all, I was comfortable talking about how wealth could be a driver in making a difference in the world.
Looking back, I had little understanding of the nonprofit sector and some key considerations that would have made this transition smoother. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet professionals that have joined the sector for a range or reasons. I wanted to share some thought processes and I’ve outlined them based on the primary three main reasons I’ve seen individuals join the charitable work force.
The Epiphany: If you’ve experienced a life altering event, this could be you. One of my favorite examples are the individuals that started Students Run LA (www.srla.org). SRLA is a nonprofit that uses running as a motivator for goal setting and achievement. As the story goes, two Los Angeles teachers were working with struggling students. Both were avid runners and thought that the goal orientation of distance events could drive students. After trying this approach, they realized it worked. The rest, as they say, is history.
For folks that “catch lightning in a bottle” it’s a journey of turning passion into purpose, then a program and maybe even an organization. Key considerations include:
· The viability of your model;
· Competition (not necessarily a bad thing - it validates your idea);
· Options for getting started i.e. partnering, lunching etc.
Passion for Service: Perhaps you’ve volunteered for years and love the work. Maybe you did a pro bono project for a charity and found the experience more rewarding than your own job. Or, maybe it’s just the right time to dedicate your life to serving others. Fantastic! If you’ve volunteered for a specific organization and there are opportunities there, great. Before switching; however, ensure your interest in working in nonprofit extends beyond the organization. Leaders change. Charities change. You get the point.
If you’re passionate about service but aren’t sure where you fit, here are some helpful questions to examine.
· What are you passionate about? What sub-sectors interest you i.e. health, education, hunger, homelessness – the list of causes is sadly, very long.
· Do you want to work at a community, state, national or even international level?
· What skills do you want to use? Where will they be most valuable?
With the growing number of charities, the options are infinite (well not infinite: there are 1.5 million nonprofits in the US alone but that should still be enough to choose from!)
Career Opportunity: I recently met a marketing professional who was recruited to a nonprofit in her local community. I’m always pleased when I hear about this happening. Bringing in individuals with different perspectives can have tremendous value. If you’ve worked in the corporate sector and have been recruited to a nonprofit, consider the following:
· You won’t be working less. Individuals may believe that nonprofit work is easier and less demanding. Wrong We’re just working for different rewards;
· Get comfortable with Process. Nonprofits value inclusion and collaboration and lots of discussion before a move. This may be different than what you’re used to; and
· It’s a family affair. There are myriad reasons to be sure your partner and entire family embrace the move from finances to participation.
Regardless whether one of the three descriptions above fits or not, there are also general questions to explore. Perhaps most important, are you moving towards something or away from something? If you’re unhappy working in the for-profit sector, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the nonprofit sector is easier. Examine your reasons and make sure you’re being honest with yourself. If you are, in fact, committed to service, then it’s a matter of figuring out where you’ll be a fit. Examine your passions – what causes do you deeply care about? Or as I was once asked “What’s Breaking Your Heart?” If you can answer this one, that’s an awesome start!
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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