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From Real Estate and Finance to a Nonprofit | An Interview with a Sector-Switcher

Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

A road in the middle of a field.

This post is the third in a multi-part series in which we're featuring some of Idealist’s very own sector switchers.

No matter what field you’re transitioning out of, there’s somebody out there who’s been through it. And for those of you looking to move into the nonprofit space from fashion, retail, education, customer service, real estate, or finance, that somebody happens to work at Idealist and wants to share their story!

Meet Matthew, Director, Special Projects for

Switched into the nonprofit sector with a background in: real estate and finance

Q: How did you first decide that you wanted to make the switch?

A: For me, the career switch was the culmination of a yearning to find fulfilling work that built up over many years. With so much of my day-to-day energy being allocated to work that I did not feel passion for, I knew that if I didn’t do something major, professional happiness would forever elude me and I would remain frustrated and unfulfilled in my work life.

Q: Once you realized you wanted to switch sectors, what was your approach?

A: Networking was a big part of it, plus, I scoured the web for opportunities and set up Idealist job alerts in the areas of nonprofit work that were of interest to me. Ultimately though, what worked was an unplanned string of events. Namely, I attended a presentation at Idealist by its founder, which turned into a volunteer opportunity, which led to a timely moment that inspired me to take the leap into the nonprofit space, full time!

Q: What are some of the differences between working in the private versus the nonprofit sector?

A: The focus on mission over money was a big adjustment for me as I had been trained that profit was the sole factor in measuring success. In addition, salaries tend to be less in nonprofits so that was an adjustment however, with greater flexibility, benefits, and like-hearted colleagues all working in an environment that is nurturing and not “cut throat,” there were huge wellness and lifestyle payoffs that have been truly priceless.

Q: How have you been able to apply the skills gained in the private sector to your current work?

A: Skills acquired in the private sector have been hugely helpful in my current work. Possessing business skills such as budgeting, project management, negotiation, and collaboration are all transferrable and necessary skills no matter what sector you're in.

Q: Has your sector switch impacted anything for you, personally?

A: It has been truly transformative! Perhaps I am an exception, but it has positively impacted all aspects of my life. Since switching to the nonprofit sector, I have encountered much less emotional stress and mental toxicity while gaining flexibility and predictability in my work hours and a healthy day-to-day environment. This has translated into time and energy left for personal interests, travel, and healthier mind, body, emotions, and personal relationships. In addition, the feeling of working toward something purposeful and larger than one’s own life is a driving force that fuels and nurtures me each day. By gaining greater joy, work-life balance, and an overall healthier personal and professional life, my sector switch feels leaps and bounds better than what I was doing and how I was feeling in the private sector.

Q: Do you have any advice for people considering a sector switch?

You really have to have a multi-pronged approach to your search. You must be relentless, self-motivating, patient, persistent, and most of all, you can’t give up even when it feels like you aren't finding what you want. Do not allow yourself to become influenced by people who are stagnant or have alternative values systems. Surround yourself with inspiring people that are a positive influence on your goals. Then, recognize that the more you focus and try different things to find that new path, the greater the likelihood that you will indeed find what you're looking for, or, as in my case, it will find you. Lastly, pay attention to your inner voice. Recognize the “knowing” inside of you as an essential tool that can illuminate a unique opportunity. And once that inner awareness kicks in, don't delay; seize the opportunity and take action! Good luck!

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Alexis Perrotta profile image

Alexis Perrotta

As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.

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