To move forward in your career, it helps to have clarity on what direction to take. Professionals ready to forge ahead could benefit from developing their talents in the nonprofit sector.
Nonprofits offer unique growth opportunities: The nature of the work allows career strategists to refine their existing skills and acquire new ones.
Here are five success stories about working on different types of nonprofits and leaving a positive mark on the community.
Then: Freelance marketing consultant; VP Management Supervisor at Saatchi & Saatchi.
Now: Director of Strategic Initiatives and Events at Sohn Conference Foundation.
Jennifer Lazar Shiamberg didn’t plan to transition directly from a for-profit organization to the nonprofit world. Maternity played a big part: “I loved having so much quality time with my kids, but when my youngest started kindergarten, I felt a huge void. I spent my free time volunteering for a few nonprofits close to my heart. I found the work incredibly meaningful and rewarding.”
Volunteering and learning how nonprofits work opened the door to new networking opportunities. “Since many nonprofits need to hire temporary positions in fundraising cycles, seeking a nonprofit job seemed like a good way to try out new roles to see where my skill set would be most useful.”
Jennifer was originally hired in a temporary role to support an event: “I had to think like an entrepreneur and create real value for the organization to be hired as a full-time employee.” Since then, she has moved upward and onward, a progression she sees as “an exciting opportunity to generate more fundraising dollars.”
“I had to think like an entrepreneur and create real value for the organization to be hired as a full-time employee.”
Then: Account coordinator at Drew Advertising; Social Media Intern at The Daily Muse.
Now: Manager, Digital Media at National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
It took a while for Melinda Tolliver to realize the world of nonprofit was her true calling: “Growing up, I always made it a point to volunteer on my own or through my sorority. But I considered this to be a hobby more so than a career path.”
During her last semester of college, she landed a communication internship at a fraternity headquarters. While fraternities are most recognizable by their individual chapters, they are actually nation-wide organizations known for giving back: “While I was interning there, I realized that this field might be a great fit. I not only loved the small atmosphere that allowed individuals to take on more responsibility, but also that my efforts were having an effect on the community.”
Melinda held five internships during her last two years of undergrad. Almost every position was focused on a different aspect of creative marketing and writing. “It wasn’t until my final internship that I found a path that would allow me to do all the things I loved in one position: public relations, social media strategy, journalism, event planning, and advertising.”
Since nonprofit organizations often have a smaller staff to keep down overhead costs, Melinda must wear many hats: “Knowing a little bit of everything will go a long way.”
Then: Reporter at PR Week; Associate Editor and Freelance Writer at AdExchanger; Social Media and Editorial Intern at Idealist.org.
Now: Marketing Manager for Performing Arts at BRIC.
Kimberly Maul Green’s introduction to the nonprofit world came when she leveraged an internship into a position as digital marketing coordinator at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: “The beauty of being an intern is that you aren’t expected to know it all. Ask questions. Chip in and help out. Sit in on meetings when you can. Get to know your colleagues. By learning all you can during this stage, it will help you in your next position.”
Constant work and observation enabled Kimberly to do lateral and upward moves towards her desired job, unconcerned by matters like nonprofit salaries: “I worked to interview nonprofit founders and executive directors. I also took a continuing studies class on nonprofits and technology. All of this not only added to my experience and skillset, but allowed me to show that my interest in nonprofits was genuine.”
Then: Senior executive at Fannie Mae.
Now: Chief Business Partnership Officer at Global Giving.
Donna Callejón didn’t start out with grand ambitions to make the world a better place. While working at mortgage loan company Fannie Mae, Donna took a company-sponsored leadership course and discovered that she was ready to step back and do something different.
Given an ongoing role on a nonprofit board and her deep knowledge of the funding market, Donna knew strategy consulting would lead to a full-time nonprofit work: “Businesspeople often come into the nonprofit sector thinking it will be easy. It’s complex to raise a budget each year, manage time against funder requests, and still stay on course.”
Donna’s experience in business and nonprofit worlds paid off when a friend introduced her to Global Giving, which connects givers to grassroots nonprofits. “I highly recommend taking a course on nonprofit accounting to gain better operational knowledge,” advises Donna. “This is how you gain a system’s view of how things work.”
Then: Account Executive at Unisys Corporation.
Now: Executive Director at Bananas Inc.
Kym Luqman had worked exclusively in information technology sales for nearly thirty years when she decided she was ready for a change. After a lifetime of volunteer work, she wanted to move to the nonprofit sector full-time: “I had a very rich resume, but it was all technology. I needed to figure out how to catch someone’s attention so I could get that first interview.”
Luqman created a resume that stressed her transferable skills rather than the jobs she had held. She devoted her time and energy to carefully craft cover letters specific to the jobs she was pursuing.
The technology exec was hired in April 2008 as executive director of Rebuilding Together Oakland, a small but high-impact organization that rehabilitates the homes of low-income elderly and disabled homeowners. One of Luqman’s first missions was to secure new funding: “Nonprofits should try to develop some of the same attributes as for-profit businesses to be successful. Most nonprofits can better serve their missions if they have good management practices.”