The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit from Your Passions During Semi-Retirement by Nancy Collamer, MS, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group.
This book is a great resource for those looking to earn a second income, potentially in a new field, during retirement or early semi-retirement. Today's post is about how to make money by working for a non-profit, something I will consider when I get to semi-retirement.
Having just insisted that you don’t need to work for a nonprofit organization in order to make a difference, I present this option first because it is the one most people think of when they consider doing good works. The nonprofit world is vast and diverse; it includes charities, advocacy groups, foundations, religious institutions, arts groups, universities, hospitals, associations, and unions. According to Independent Sector, a leadership network for the nonprofit and philanthropic communities, nonprofits and foundations play a major role in our economy; they employ 9 percent of the American workforce and account for 5 percent of our gross domestic product.
Whether you want to work for a museum, a charity, or an advocacy group, it is likely you will find the experience of working at a nonprofit somewhat different from your experience in the for-profit sector. On the positive side, nonprofits are generally regarded as nice places to work: kindness, passion, and purpose are more highly valued than in profit-driven companies, work schedules tend be more flexible, and the joy of working for a mission-driven organization is a welcome change for people accustomed to putting profits before people. That said, working at a nonprofit is not always an ideal situation. Most organizations still have their share of office politics (people are people, after all), and the realities of working with a limited budget, a volunteer staff, and a dependency on erratic funding sources can prove problematic and stressful.
Consequently, if you think you want to work for a nonprofit, take the time to consider your options before applying for work. Carefully assess your skills, experience, and interests, and then begin to explore ways you can best use your skills in organizations that appeal to you. It can be helpful to first volunteer or serve on a nonprofit board as a way to become familiar with an organization and its culture before committing to a more permanent employment relationship.
To help you gain a better understanding of what your transition into the nonprofit world might involve, I interviewed Barbara Salop, age fifty-eight, a career IBM executive who recently made her own transition into the nonprofit world.
From IBM Executive to Nonprofit Consultant
“People think there aren’t many good business people in the nonprofit world, but there are wonderful people—they just have a whole lot less to work with than people in the corporate world.” — Barbara Salop, nonprofit consultant
Barbara Salop, a former client of mine from Riverside, Connecticut, has long been a strong supporter of organizations that benefit people with developmental disabilities. But because she was a full-time working mother of two, the number of hours Barbara was able to devote to volunteer activities was restricted by the demands of work and family. So in 2010, when she was able to retire with full benefits from IBM, Barbara decided to take her executive expertise and apply it to the nonprofit sector. Recognizing that she needed to get some serious nonprofit experience in order to strengthen her credentials and her familiarity with the nonprofit world, Barbara spent eighteen months working as a pro bono consultant for several local nonprofits. She then applied for and was accepted into the Hartford Encore Fellows program, a workforce development program that helps seasoned professionals transition into the nonprofit sector. That program gave her an opportunity to immerse herself in the nonprofit world through classroom training, job shadowing, and a two-month internship experience. It also gave her a chance to get to know people actively working in the sector, as well as build a peer group of other executives who were also actively transitioning into the nonprofit sector. At the time I interviewed Barbara, she was starting her first paid consulting assignment with an organization she had originally worked for as a volunteer. I asked Barbara for her impressions of the nonprofit arena:
What are the most striking differences between life at IBM and the nonprofit world?
B.S: There are lots of similarities, but also plenty of differences. In corporate, it is all about making money, but in nonprofits, the focus is on the mission. Nonprofits sometimes make decisions that seem nonbusiness-like to the rest of us, but they represent tradeoffs that reflect their determination to put the mission before the money. It takes great discipline to make those tough choices, especially when funding is scarce. I have the deepest admiration for that level of commitment to a cause.
Did you notice a difference in the types of people who work for profit versus nonprofit?
B.S: I was very impressed by how happy most of the nonprofit executives seem to be. I don’t mean to make it sound like it is always perfect in a Pollyanna-like way, but there was a real sense of mission, purpose, and fulfillment among the people I met. Even when they were having a tough day, it was clear that they have an underlying sense of happiness about what they are doing. Although I had many good days at IBM, and was proud of what my team accomplished, I rarely experienced that same sense of deep fulfillment from my corporate work.
How did the nonprofits where you volunteered react to you being a “corporate” person?
B.S: That was interesting. On one hand, there seemed to be some trepidation about a corporate person walking into a nonprofit. Their perception is that corporate types are only about the numbers, and we make decisions based on measurements and profits alone. On the other hand, some people are almost awestruck by people from corporate and [practically] treat us like we are from a different planet. I found it to be so important to take the time to listen to what they had to say, learn from them, and respect their expertise.
There are so many ways to volunteer. How did you decide which organizations to approach about volunteering?
B.S: I knew that I wanted to focus on working with organizations that support people with developmental disabilities, so I targeted those types of opportunities. In terms of what you choose to do for them, there are essentially two ways to help. One is to do the easy, hands-on things like stuffing envelopes or serving at a soup kitchen. It is needed work, and they will appreciate your time. But if you are an experienced businessperson, I think you owe it to the nonprofit to find a way to leverage your professional expertise. They are so grateful when you can help them do the things they can’t do or don’t have the time to do, like project management, facilitation, or strategic planning.
After being a long-term volunteer, how did you broach the subject of getting paid for your work?
B.S: I hung around long enough for them to really value my business expertise! When you can get them to see your value proposition and understand the business case for your fees, it is a much easier sell. Even once I was done with projects, I checked in with my volunteer sites to follow up with them about their implementation plans. Over time they realized that it would pay to keep me around. I think it also is helpful to offer your services as an independent contractor instead of expecting the organization to hire you. In this economy, if they have the option of bringing in a variable worker, it makes sense for them to do that. It may cost them a bit more in the short term, but it gives them greater long-term flexibility.
How did you know what to charge?
B.S: Quite honestly, it was difficult to know what to charge. I asked my friends in nonprofits who had previously hired consultants for their suggestions. I was willing to start with a low rate because I knew I still had a lot to learn and I needed to get some more experience in the sector. I suspect that as I continue to contribute and add value, there will be opportunities for me to raise my rates.
What suggestions do you have regarding the nonprofit job search?
B.S: Like any job search, networking is critically important, and I spent a lot of time on that. Sometimes I felt like I was just going for endless cups of coffee, but it paid off in the end. In terms of resources, LinkedIn is an invaluable tool that I used to identify board members and volunteers at organizations that appealed to me.
Do you have any additional thoughts for people considering making a switch to nonprofits?
B.S: Take your time in determining the types of organizations you want to work for. You are going to get paid a lot less than you earned in corporate, so find a sector that really speaks to you. This transition can take longer than you anticipate, but have faith that it will be worth the effort.
Here are five excellent resources to help you make the transition into the nonprofit sector:
1. Encore.org (www.encore.org). If you are over forty and want to get involved in helping to make the world a better place, you owe it to yourself to get familiar with both Civic Ventures and Encore.org. Civic Ventures funds a number of initiatives, fellowships, and programs designed to help boomers solve serious social problems (including the fellowship program Barbara attended). The Encore.org website, published by Civic Ventures, is the single most comprehensive resource for boomers interested in careers that combine personal meaning, social impact, and continued income. Their outstanding guide to encore careers can be downloaded for free at www.encore.org/files/PDFs/guide/encore_guide.pdf. Marc Freedman, the CEO and founder of Civic Ventures, wrote the book Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life (PublicAffairs, 2008)—it is a compelling read for anyone interested in this subject.
2. Bridgestar (www.bridgestar.org). Bridgestar.org is a site for seasoned executives who want to transition from the for-profit sector into nonprofits. They have an extensive career center and a job board that lists both staff jobs and nonprofit board positions.
3. Idealist (www.idealist.org). Idealist.org is a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the world of nonprofits. The site features career advice, a job board, and information about events, fellowships, internships, volunteer opportunities, and educational programs in the nonprofit world.
4. The Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org). Whether you want to establish a foundation, learn how to write a grant, or secure funds for research, this is the right site for you. The Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide, with a site that lists training programs, job openings, and other useful resources.
5. National Council of Nonprofit Associations (www.councilof nonprofits.org). The National Council of Nonprofit Associations is the network of state and regional nonprofit associations serving more than twenty thousand member organizations. Although this site is geared toward nonprofit administrators, their resources will help educate you about key issues relevant to smaller nonprofit organizations.
Finally, if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest news in the world of philanthropy, a great resource is the Chronicle of Philanthropy (philanthropy.com). It is both in print and online, and it is like the New York Times of the philanthropy world.