Land Your Dream Job
Careers that help you move from intention to action

Switching to the Nonprofit Sector? Here's One Way to Land a Nonprofit Job

Yoona Wagener profile image

Yoona Wagener

A work desk with a cup of coffee, a laptop and a notebook.

Prepping for a big professional shift this year? Perhaps you’re thinking of leaving your job, asking for a raise, or applying for a position in that new department they’re putting together. Maybe you’re even considering a sector switch from the for-profit space into the nonprofit sector.

There are many things to sort out before taking the leap, but if you’re confident that the change is the right move for you, I’d recommend adding one more consideration to your checklist as you begin your job search: Are you open to making the transition into an entry-level role?

With the right organization, team, and position, you may find that an entry-level role is a great avenue for translating your for-profit experience and growing your newfound nonprofit career. Here are three reasons why sector switchers should at least consider entry-level opportunities.

1. Your experience will help you establish credibility

If you have a few years of experience under your belt or you’re a mid-career professional ready to take on a social-impact role, you may be hesitant to accept a position that places you at the very bottom of an organization. Rather than seeing this move as a step backward, consider how you can use your experience to demonstrate from day one how valuable you are.

While there may not be direct one-to-one matches when it comes to responsibilities or tasks you’ve tackled in prior roles, there are undoubtedly ways you can apply what you know.

If you were an account manager in your former role, for example, your experience building relationships with clients would translate well in building connections with potential donors. What you may not know when it comes to the specifics of donor stewardship you can make up for with your experience as a relationship manager and someone who is skilled in an outward-facing capacity.

Pro tip: Before you begin the interview process, make sure you’re prepared to answer the question of whether you have too much experience for the entry-level role you’re seeking. Rather than discrediting your experience, emphasize the ways that your experience is relevant, how the change aligns with your career goals, and how it will help challenge you to reach those goals.

2. You can still take a seat at the table

While each individual organization will have its own unique processes and workflows, there is often an underlying all-hands-in philosophy in the nonprofit sector that presents more opportunities for incoming team members. Even if you hold an entry-level title, you may find yourself in conversation with members of the board, the executive director, and other senior leaders at galas, organization-wide events, or just around the office.

Since many nonprofits also have a “many hats” philosophy, you may find opportunities to identify an organizational need and develop and implement a solution. For example, some organizations don’t have dedicated marketing and public relations teams. If these skills are in your wheelhouse or of interest to you, as you continue to learn about the organization and mission, you may find yourself proposing and leading a project such as a strategic email marketing campaign or the creation of an organization-wide wellness committee.

Of course, it’s important to remain respectful of your more-experienced colleagues and to make sure you’re not stepping on any toes; chances are, your unique experience and enthusiasm will be greatly appreciated by your organization’s leadership and your co-workers.

3. You won’t be afraid to learn in your new nonprofit job

As an experienced professional transitioning to the nonprofit sector, you’ll likely bring with you a facility for making the most of on-the-job learning.

While the learning curve may seem daunting at first, your prior experience will help you to thoughtfully consider and call upon other approaches you’ve used in the past. You’ll also have a good understanding of how and when to ask for help. All of this will help you to understand and acclimate to your new role.

As a sector-switcher, remember that your new colleagues are now an invaluable resource that you can tap into to help you along in your new social-impact career—but so are other sector-switchers!

Here are a few of our favorite sector-switcher success stories for you to turn to for lessons, perspectives, and encouragement:

Pro tip: Others (your former for-profit colleagues, for example) may perceive your new nonprofit role as a “demotion” and question why you you made the move. But if you feel confident that this role was the right move for you in order to reach your ultimate career goals, you’ll be prepared with a response and confidence in your career growth.

Even if you suspect transitioning to the nonprofit sector in an entry-level role isn’t for you, consider keeping an open mind about it. You may end up finding a meaningful and well-suited entry-level opportunity that helps you take an important first step toward building your nonprofit career.

Yoona Wagener profile image

Yoona Wagener

Yoona Wagener is a freelance writer and WordPress developer who believes in the value of nonlinear career paths. She has experience in academic publishing, teaching English abroad, serving up customer support to software end users, writing online help documentation, and mission-driven nonprofit marketing and communications.

Explore Jobs on Idealist