PMA Consulting, LLC

Your 2012 Nonprofit Career Plan

By Josh Jacobson, PMA Managing Director

As PMA noted in December 2011, career transition to nonprofits from the for-profit sector is on the rise – and not just in Charlotte. According to Civic Ventures, a think tank on all things boomers, 9 million individuals ages 44 to 70 are already in encore careers, an increase of nearly 10 percent in just 4 years. These figures do not take into account mid-career transition, which PMA has found to be an increasingly more common activity for individuals aged 30 to 44.

Photo Courtesy of Washington College

Photo Courtesy of Washington College

As PMA endeavors to meet these individuals and evaluate them both for active searches and as a part of developing a database for its growing search service line, the firm’s consultants are often asked to suggest methods to better align experience and skill set with the sector.

Our advice (below) is simple, but surprisingly few people who express an interest in the nonprofit sector are pursuing activities in each category. The fact is, this advice is typically the same whether the person is looking to break-in or already entrenched in the nonprofit sector:

Pursue Professional Development

  • Book smarts won’t take you everywhere, but developing your understanding of concepts and trends is a great place to start. A good knowledge-base  can be the difference between you and other candidates.
  • Check out local colleges, universities, and national associations for classes, workshops and seminars. Often led by industry professionals, the opportunity to learn from real-life examples bring new perspective to ideas.
  • Read books, magazines and on-line resources dedicated to specific nonprofit focuses (health and human services, higher education, the arts, etc) or position types (nonprofit marketing, fundraising/development, program implementation, etc.). Figure out what interests you and start reading!

Network, Network, Network

  • It is highly unlikely someone will reach through your computer and pull you in to the nonprofit sector – those who boldly seek out and cultivate gatekeepers are much more likely to be successful.
  • Make online connections via social media and then pursue an in-person meeting over coffee. LinkedIn and Twitter are great starting points to seek out new connections.
  • Be clear about your goals and objectives – “I want to work for a nonprofit” is insufficient. Make concrete, achievable goals and lay out a plan to reach them.
  • Chose 8-10 organizations that interest you and set out to meet individuals in both groups (associations and mixers) and one-on-one.

Pick a Passion Project

  • If you want to get a job in the nonprofit field but are not currently involved in one, you may not be taken very seriously.
  • Get involved in something about which you care deeply and really commit to it – serve on a committee, undertake a volunteer project and cultivate connections. When you’re working on something you love, you’ll find yourself working harder to be a sustainable part of it for the future.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to changing careers, no other sector provides better access to resources, individuals and direct experiences like the nonprofit sector. Being committed to making it happen is a function of courage and tenacity.

Josh Jacobson

Josh Jacobson Managing Director