Q. You’ve spent your career in a profit-making business but want your work to be more in line with your personal values. The idea of working for a nonprofit is appealing, but is this the right reason to make a switch?
A. It is a good reason but not the only one. It’s important to analyze why you are drawn to this kind of work as a career, rather than as a volunteer, said Steven Pascal-Joiner, midcareer transitions coordinator for Idealist.org, a Web site that posts nonprofit job openings and information for job seekers.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘I want to work for a nonprofit,’ ” he said. “You need to know what kind of organization you want to work for, the role you want to play and why.”
Many people think that work for a nonprofit will be less stressful, compared with the for-profit world, said Jean Erickson Walker, a managing partner at OI Partners, a career coaching firm in Portland, Ore.
“That’s nonsense,” she said. “In most nonprofits you’ll be expected to work longer hours — including evenings and weekends — for less money.”
Q. Are you likely to take a big pay cut by moving to a nonprofit?
A. Nonprofit salaries vary, depending on geographic location and budget, but they are generally lower than those at for-profit companies, said David Schachter, assistant dean for career services at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University.
According to PayScale.com, a salary Web site, typical pay at nonprofits for entry-level to midlevel employees is about 5 percent to 10 percent lower than it is at for-profits; for midlevel executives it is 20 percent to 25 percent lower. For executive directors, it is at least 50 percent lower, compared with a C.E.O.’s salary.
Q. You know the issues that are important to you. How do you find the right nonprofits to seek out?
A. Start by looking at nonprofits within your industry or a similar one, because that’s where the transition is likely to be easiest, said Raymond D. Horton, director of the social enterprise program at the Columbia Business School. “If you work for a private educational institution, you could go to a public charter school,” he said. “If you work for a private health care provider you could switch to a not-for-profit provider.”
But if you want a change from your current profession, begin your search by looking at the groups financed by your local United Way chapter, Mr. Schachter suggested. Or contact the Chamber of Commerce to find the various nonprofits operating in your region.
Q. When you find nonprofits that look like a good fit, should you send a résumé?
A. That isn’t likely to get a response, Mr. Pascal-Joiner said. Nonprofits tend to obtain referrals from staff members and other nonprofits, or to look to their volunteers when they hire. So consider working your way into an organization by volunteering first, either at your chosen nonprofit or one with a similar mission. Be sure to volunteer in a way that uses the skills you already have or helps you learn new ones.
Before applying for a paid position, meet with the leadership to get a sense of the organization’s financial state and the challenges it faces, said Darian Rodriguez Heyman, executive director of the Craigslist Foundation in San Francisco, which provides education and resources to emerging nonprofit leaders.
“There are good nonprofits and poorly run nonprofits,” he said. “The best management situation is a board that empowers staff to make decisions, rather than micromanaging them.”
Q. When you are ready to apply for a job, can you use your corporate résumé?
A. Revamp it for the nonprofit world, said David Yarnold, a former executive editor at The San Jose Mercury News who left the paper two years ago to take an executive position at the Environmental Defense Fund. Job descriptions should showcase your skills, not your title. “You have to translate your experience into what the nonprofit world needs,” he said.
Highlight work on multidisciplinary projects and across departments, which shows that you are flexible, said Kathleen Yazbak, managing director at Bridgestar, which recruits executives for nonprofits. Those traits are crucial for someone who will need to work with staff members, external stakeholders, donors, board members and other nonprofits. And mention your volunteer experience, which shows that you have been preparing for this transition.
Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about switching from the corporate world to the nonprofit world?
A. Many people are surprised to find the hours longer and stress greater than in the corporate world. Brian Olson, who left the private sector for a nonprofit in 2006, found the decision-making process to be unfocused.
“No matter how good a volunteer board is, it’s not the same as a corporate board, because everyone has a different agenda,” said Mr. Olson, who returned to the private sector a year later to be vice president for public affairs at Video Professor Inc., a company in Lakewood, Colo., that sells self-tutorial programs. “There was a purity to corporate life I missed,” he said.
There is value, he said, to “a company just getting the job done based on the needs of the marketplace.”