1) As soon as the idea of working in the nonprofit sector strikes your fancy, go find a volunteer or board service opportunity with a cause or organization you can get excited about and jump into it with both feet. Become a "go to" person for staff and offer to take the lead on a few activities or events. Not only will this give you a flavor of the sector but it also adds to your resume - what not-for-profit would hire an executive who had never volunteered or served on a board before?
2) Don't make the leaders of foundations or community nonprofit experts your first stop in thinking about this type of move - they are not career counselors and you may be doing more harm than good to your search by arriving on their door step too early and unprepared. Wait until you know what type of role and what type of organization - you didn't want to work for "just any business" and you don't want to work for "just any nonprofit". Do approach a couple people who work in nonprofits similar to what you feel you are looking for to learn about their work.
3) Think about what you are hoping for in your next position. Many business people envision a nonprofit role as a chance to slow down and step out of the stress of the business world, especially if they are taking a reduction in pay. In reality, nonprofit leadership is just as difficult and stressful, sometimes even more. Working evenings and weekends with constituents or volunteers or board members is required. In preparing these notes, one nonprofit funder commented that she had a business person resign after a couple years of nonprofit leadership because there was no time to pursue his golf game.
4) Recognize the transition from big to small can be just as significant as from business to nonprofit. 80%+ of nonprofits have a handful of staff or smaller. If you have worked for even a mid-sized business, you have likely either forgotten or never had to worry about all the little details of keeping an organization running while making payroll each week - you would likely have no IT or marketing department or staff attorneys or maybe even someone to open and close the office each day - except you.
5) Do some reading to acquaint yourself with the differences between business and not-for-profit cultures and leadership. Here are a couple to start with:
From the Stanford Social Innovation Review -What Business Execs Don’t Know—but Should—About Nonprofits http://www.ssireview.org/site/printer/what_business_execs_dont_know_but_should_about_nonprofits/
How Bridgers - individuals whose professional experience comes primarily from for-profit companies make the switch to the nonprofit sector - for reasons both personal and professional.http://resources.bridgestar.org/Documents/BridgingAnOverview.pdf
And of course, Jim Collins's monograph "Good to Great and the Social Sectors" where he suggests that businesses will eventually begin seeking leaders from the nonprofit sector because it takes stronger leadership skills to lead volunteers and marginally paid staff than it does to lead in a corporate hierarchy full of financial and promotional incentives.
6) Be your own career counselor - There is a booming industry in books about making the move into nonprofit leadership. One of the early ones that has many practical exercises and good advice is “From Making a Profit to Making a Difference” by Richard King.
7) Explore other resources, both national and local to learn about the field and narrow your areas of interest. Some resources:
- www.Guidestar.org - tax return info for all nonprofits who file them
- www.Connect2Help.org - most social service organizations, by area of service
- www.NotforProfitNews.com - job listings and "What's Happening” in the Nonprofit Sector
- Indpls Business Journal Book of Lists - Largest nonprofits, Associations, etc.
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy - professional journal www.philanthropy.com
- Contributions Magazine – www.contributionsmagazine.com
- Stanford Social Innovation Review – www.ssireview.com
- Nonprofit Quarterly – www.nonprofitquarterly.org
- Nonprofit Times – www.nptimes.com
- Getting involved with nonprofits as a board member or other volunteer capacity www.LacyLeadership.org or Get on Board, Nov 8, 2007 at IN History Center
- www.volunteersolutions.org – listings of volunteer openings, sponsored by UW
- Consulting as a volunteer through Exec Service Corp www.escindy.org
9) Finally, do be excited about the possibilities while realizing that it could be the hardest, most frustrating, and most rewarding work of your career.
Please share your thoughts and helpful resources you have found.