“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." — Anne Frank
If the first thing that enters your mind when you hear the word “nonprofit” is your local animal shelter, the Red Cross, the New York Museum of Modern Art or the Rainforest Foundation, you are right on the mark. But if these types of organizations are all that enter your mind when you hear that word, you’re very much unaware of the depth and extent of the nonprofit world.
The Republican Party is a nonprofit organization, as are Cedars Sinai Hospital, Wikipedia, and the United States Olympic Committee. If you’re a sports fan, you’ll be interested to know that the NFL and the National Hockey League are nonprofits. Oh… need we mention Harvard University, which boasted an endowment of $30 billion in 2013 (down from $32 billion the year before)?
If you've cavalierly dismissed the world of nonprofits as “a bunch of treehuggers,” you should know that some of the country’s most prestigious nonprofits are conservative organizations — groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, and Citizens Against Government Waste, just to name a few.
Just because an organization labels itself “nonprofit,” doesn't mean that it’s not looking to make a profit.
Consider too that Warren Buffett has donated a huge block of Berkshire Hathaway shares to charity — the largest block is earmarked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Yes, the charitable among us should pardon the expression, but the world of nonprofits is big business… extremely big business.
If you’re retired, or planning on retiring soon, and you've devoted your career to the private sector, you might want to consider a second career in the nonprofit world. It’s a marvelous way to harvest your skills and talents. . What’s more, if you present yourself properly, nonprofit recruiters will welcome you and make good use of your background.
If you decide to seek employment in the nonprofit world, don’t remove your private sector hat. You’re going to need it. Just because an organization labels itself “nonprofit,” doesn't mean that it’s not looking to make a profit. It needs to make a profit in fact to stay viable. The word “nonprofit” means that the organization has a particular IRS classification — the most common one being 501(c) (3) — so that it can function with all appropriate federal government benefits and protection.
As a nonprofit executive or manager, you’ll be working for a cause. You’ll be able to drill down and define that cause in terms of specific annual dollar objectives. The funds raised by the organization will be used to further those objectives. A good nonprofit executive is trained to explain to foundations and donors how their funds will be applied to further the interest — the good works — of the organization.
A good way to get started in the nonprofit world is to pick a cause that interests you: the arts, helping disadvantaged children, criminal justice, or suicide prevention, for example. Once you determine a cause, volunteer your services to an organization that aligns with your interest. Not only will you be doing something useful as a volunteer, but you’ll be discovering how a particular nonprofit works in helping to promote your cause.
A good way to locate a cause near where you live is to go to the website www.idealist.org. Not only can you discover national and international volunteer opportunity, you’ll learn to orient yourself in the world of volunteering.
It’s important to learn the style of nonprofits. While your work in the private sector as a financial or sales executive will prove useful, you’ll have to learn a different vocabulary and approach. As a salesman or sales manager, you’ve focused on the “close.” In nonprofits, you’ll go for the “ask.” These require similar skills, but the skills are applied differently.
Once you acquire your sea legs through volunteering, you’ll be ready to apply for a nonprofit job. Now, instead of simply writing on your résumé that your private skills are applicable to a particular nonprofit, you’ll be able to show exactly how through your volunteer work. You’ll be able to tweak your résumé to attract a nonprofit executive recruiter or director.
Now you can go to www.idealist.org for paid opportunities in nonprofits. Believe me, there are many. Other good places to look for such opportunities are at www.opportunityknocks.org, www.thechronicleofphilanthropy.com, and www.thenonprofittimes.com.
By the way, the pay might surprise you on some of these positions, particularly if they’re with larger nonprofits. Again, don’t be fooled by the word nonprofit. If you think back on your own business experience, you’ll appreciate why — though it might seem counterintuitive — nonprofits have to make a profit too.