Switching Lanes into a Non-profit Career

Are you a mid- or late-career professional looking to shift into the non-profit sector? You can do it with the proper preparation. Read on for expert tips. 

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Are you looking to transfer into the non-profit sector?  Maybe you're tired of the corporate 'rat race' and are looking to achieve more noble goals. Or maybe you've just always wanted to 'do good.' The not-for-profit sector provides many opportunities for passionate leaders. Even if you're a mid- or late-career professional, you can make the switch to the nonprofit industry with the proper research and preparation. 

Read on for practical tips on why you should consider shifting into a non-profits career and how to make that shift.

What is a Non-Profit Career?

Not-for-profit organizations are those dedicated to social causes, such as charity programs, research, education, or public advocacy. Many professionals choose to make a career transition to the non-profit sector to make a more direct and positive impact on the lives of others. Simply put, non-profit placements are rewarding vocations.

The Big Picture: Shifting to a Non-Profit Career Creates “Win-Win”

What’s in it for the non-profit organizationally?

Executives who join a non-profit organization bring their valuable and strategic experience and mentorship to other longstanding leaders or directors. In addition, their leadership style and guidance can often be inspirational as well as educational to those they lead while helping elevate the effectiveness of their charitable services.

What’s in it for me as a leader?

Not to be undervalued in the least, many successful business executives find that the shift to a not-for-profit executive role provides them with greater satisfaction and fulfillment. Serving a charitable cause can be immensely rewarding and a reminder of the importance of giving back to the community.

4 Benefits of Shifting to a Non-Profit Organization

Shifting from a business or corporate leadership role to a not-for-profit executive leadership role in a charity or not-for-profit organization offers a variety of personal benefits, some of which are below:

1.  Meaningful Mission.

One of the benefits is the opportunity to work towards a significant mission with meaning. Not-for-profit organizations typically focus on causes and initiatives that bring valuable services to a needy community.

2.  Positive Impact.

Another benefit of a not-for-profit executive leadership role is the opportunity to make a positive and lasting impact through far-reaching initiatives and strategies that directly and meaningfully impact the community it serves. Moreover, the self-fulfillment from creating real social value cannot be underestimated.

3.  People Over Profits.

Not-for-profit executives also benefit from the increased level of autonomy. They are often allowed to think outside the box while developing creative strategies to achieve their organization’s goals and objectives. The lack of shareholders allows executives to focus on the organization’s mission. Rather than delivering on short-term profits, the non-profit leader can help meet the needs of the recipients of their programs long-term.

4.  Leadership Experience.

The knowledge and skills gained in a corporate leadership role can be used in this new setting and will be appreciated as an asset to the organization. Of course, a period of adjustment to the new environment and approach to delivering services must be anticipated. But, once they are through that phase, they will see tangible results in the lives of those they serve—both employees and clients.

How You Can Prepare for the Shift

Preparing to explore a career in the not-for-profit sector means you should be aware of potential hurdles or roadblocks. Below are a few things to think about before shifting lanes.                                                                                     

  • Prepare for Resistance. Making a career switch to the non-profit sector can take time, and transitioning into a new non-profit sector can be intimidating. In addition, making a good impression in interviews may be challenging without the non-profit experience.
  • Be Open to Starting Over. A career switch into the non-profit sector may require you to restart in some ways vocationally. Being open to learning new skills and taking on unique responsibilities will be critical to your success. Be flexible and willing to work in different roles where your skill set and experience will be most helpful. Your flexibility will increase your chances of making a successful transition.
  • Explore Volunteer Opportunities. Volunteering your time and service is an excellent way to gain experience and build the relationships needed for serving in a non-profit sector. Reach out to different organizations and see if they need assistance. Your volunteering efforts will demonstrate your commitment to the cause. You will also build relationships, learn more about the field, and make the contacts that will help you in that new role.

Practical Tips for Making the Shift a Reality

Find Others with Non-profit Experience. Success in a non-profit career may depend on finding those already established in the non-profit sector of your choice. You can connect with experienced professionals through organizations like the National Council of Nonprofits.

Update Your Resume. It may sound obvious but be sure to update your resume. That means you must be sure that it reflects the soft and hard skills most helpful in the non-profit you are interviewing with and highlights your passion for the cause. Personal engagement and passion for the cause will help you stand out in the competitive non-profit sector.

Expand Your Professional Network.
Networking among experienced non-profit professionals is essential when making a career transition into a non-profit role. Take advantage of any temporary job opportunities you can find, even if it’s an area outside your experience. Different jobs will help you make more connections and expand your professional network in that sector.

Use an Executive Search Firm. Non-profit organizations often turn to executive search firms to help them find the best talent for their team. Working with an executive search firm gives non-profits access to a larger and more qualified pool of applicants. An executive search firm that has noticed your skills may help you if you want to make a good impression and receive introductions to those who are hiring.

Final Thoughts

Executives who choose to join non-profit organizations have the potential to make a significant impact on the organization's effectiveness and success. Not to mention, for many successful business executives, the transition to a not-for-profit executive role can be an immensely rewarding experience. It's not too late to consider such a move in the future!

Picture of Jim Foster

Jim Foster

Managing Partner, Cause Leadership Inc. (more)
Jim Foster is the Chief Operating Officer of the executive search firm Cause Leadership. Jim manages a team that has successfully placed many senior-level leaders for the last 25 years with a broad spectrum of groups, including many charitable and nonprofit organizations. (less)


Jim Foster is the Chief Operating Officer of the executive search firm Cause Leadership. Jim manages a team that has successfully placed many senior-level leaders for the last 25 years with a broad spectrum of groups, including many charitable and nonprofit organizations.