Changing Careers: Transitioning from the For-Profit to Nonprofit Sector
What to expect and how to make a successful transition into a nonprofit job.
It's no secret that the average Millennial bears a striking resemblance to a modern day Goldilocks - they will keep on trying things out until they get the perfect fit. From relationships, to where they live, to who they hang out with, their loyalty is largely determined by how they feel. And it turns out that when it comes to their workplace, many of them aren't feeling very good.
Gone are the days where people worked for 30 years at the same company and were grateful for stability above everything else. Now, employees are asking a lot more from the place that pays their bills and one of those questions is, ‘what are your values and how are you standing by them?' Although many companies are trying to answer with CSR strategies and employee volunteering initiatives, for many employees, the reality of making money for a company that they're not invested in just isn't enough.
This doesn’t just apply to Millennials. More and more, people of all ages are wondering what the purpose of their work actually is.
Sound familiar? Well, it was the same for me too. And that's why I'm here to write a guide on doing something that I don't think you'll regret… moving into the non-profit sector.
5 things to know before you move from a for-profit job to a nonprofit job
Knowledge is power, so before you make the final decision to jump ship from the sturdy corporate cruise ship, it’s a good idea to get a sense of the changes you might face when you arrive on the social impact dinghy. I can’t lie that both have their pros and cons, BUT if a sense of purpose is what you are looking for, then read on…
1. Budgets will be lower
When I look back at the budgets we had in the corporate sector, it seems like we were playing with monopoly money. I genuinely can’t count the number of times people threw around comments like ‘its only a few thousand Euros…’ as if a few thousand Euros isn’t enough to buy a car or pay off my student loan.
The nonprofit sector is different. Every penny will be allocated very carefully and will need to deliver a clear return on investment. This might be obvious, but what is not so obvious is the pressure it puts on everything. Every single department will be either aiming to make money (digital, fundraising, marketing) or will be pressed to save money (programmes, projects, administration). You can no longer work happily oblivious to the value of money. Every penny counts, and you will realise how very little can actually get you a long way. It’s oddly liberating, if frustrating at times.
2. Your salary will be lower
The obvious repercussion of lower budgets is lower salaries. You can still get a comfortable wage, and I would highly recommend looking at private charities or a government-funded charity if you aren’t willing to compromise on money. (If you're curious about what salaries in the social sector look like, have a look at the results of our survey.) But I genuinely believe that what you sacrifice in cash, you make up for in fulfillment.
3. There will (probably) be less structure
From my experience, I would say that the non-profit sector tends to be more stripped back than the corporate sector. Structures tend to be flatter and people’s job descriptions tend to be less rigidly adhered to. No longer are you just a nut in a money-making machine, you are the culmination of all of your skills, abilities and experiences, and your new employer will want, and need, to harness all of it. The variety is amazing, and the things you will learn are invaluable, BUT if you are one of those people who hates being asked to do something that isn’t in your job description, it might not be for you.
4. They need you, they just may not know it yet
Like every other sector, the nonprofit sector needs highly skilled professionals. But beyond that, they need specialists. Specialists in tech, marketing, design…you name it. The skills that you bring are highly valuable, even if you don’t have direct experience in applying them at a nonprofit. Unfortunately, sometimes your corporate background can be seen as a red flag. But don’t let this stop you. It may take a little convincing, but if you can "rebrand" yourself by repackaging your skills - paying close attention to their needs - you will be in high demand.
5. You will have a better quality of life
This is an inevitable generalization, but in my experience, employees are treated better in the not-for-profit sector. You will go home on time, be rewarded for your efforts and be assisted in your professional development. You won’t get the brutal decision-making of cut-throat business; in the non-profit sector, people live by their values and expect other people to do so too.
So now you know what to expect… if you are still interested, see below for how you might make the move across to the nonprofit sector…
How to move across to the non-profit sector
Identify a cause you care about
There is no point joining a company just because it has a purpose. If you are leaving your current role and taking a pay cut for it, the purpose has to be personal – it has to matter to you. You will also find that when you start doing interviews, you will need to show that you care, so interviewing for a role in a climate change charity when you are always skipping the ‘environment’ section of the newspaper just doesn’t make sense.
So, think it through - what are the things that get you going and make you feel something? When you read the paper, what makes you stop and think/feel? Is it animal welfare, humanitarian aid, solar power, gender… the list goes on… Think hard about it before you get started with your search.
Go to Meetups
It is easy to feel like you are alone in wanting more, especially when you are in a corporate environment. You are not! And one way to find that out in a quick and easy way is to check out local meetups. The Changer has a monthly hangout where you can network and meet people, you can stay up-to-date on our Facebook page or check out the events page. Other groups like MakeSense also have regular meetups.
Have a search on https://www.meetup.com/ for meetup groups about everything from human rights to sustainability and everything in-between. And then there are more general meetups where you will find all sorts of organisations and causes to get you thinking.
Before you move into the non-profit sector, one of the best things you can do is volunteer with a local charity. Yes, it is partly because it is amazing work experience and shows your future employer that you care, but it is also invaluable in helping you work out exactly which direction you want to go in.
For example, before I started volunteering with children with HIV once a week, I had grand ideas about becoming a teacher. But after volunteering with them for a few months, it became intensely clear that I was just interested in the idea, as opposed to the reality of it.
Volunteering helps make the non-profit sector real and tangible and will tell you first hand whether it is worth making a dramatic change for.
In terms of where to find the opportunities, vostel.de and Give Something Back to Berlin are a good start, and if you’re still stuck, you will definitely find people who are looking for help at your local Changer hangout. If you're based in Germany, have a look at this article to get an overview of volunteer opportunities in Germany.
Commit to it
If I could get some cash every time someone asked me ‘how to volunteer’ or ‘how to get a job with a charity’ I would be laughing. The truth is that there is no secret. You just have to really want to do it. If you are willing to volunteer and show you care, and you keep your eye on the opportunities pages of the right job boards, it will happen. And the good news is that the fact that you are here suggests that you are well on your way!