Taking the leap into the non-profit sector
By Elaine Varelas| GLOBE CORRESPONDENT JUNE 01, 2014
I’m a proven executive with more than 20 years of successful for-profit experience. My experience also includes consistent board service for socially minded organizations I believe in. I am committed to making a change to a full-time role in a service organization. What are my chances, and what tips for success can you provide?
Making a career change from a successful, senior executive role in the private sector to the social sector is not as straightforward as one might expect. A successful business management and leadership career does not automatically make a person a great candidate to lead a nonprofit.
There are several specific, nonprofit leadership skills sets necessary in mission-based organizations that are distinctive from those in the private sector. These include domain and technical knowledge in the organization’s area of practice (e.g. global or public health, education reform). Visibility, contacts, and a network that can be leveraged in the organization’s operating domain are highly valued as well.
I consulted Mike Humphries, president of Waldron, a Career Partners International firm. He said, “One of the greatest challenges is adjusting to a different style of leadership.”
Motivating and inspiring all stakeholders to put their resources behind the mission willingly is essential. Strong, fundamental leadership skills transcend sectors, but the style needs to be adapted. Holding people accountable for their product and performance is often among the most difficult skills to transfer effectively.
To make this kind of transition, it helps to have a consistent thread of community service and philanthropic board service. This work can also showcase your fund-raising experience. Taking a leadership role in a major campaign is even better; this shows initiative and the ability to make big requests of new donors. It helps to have depth in the domain on which the mission is focused. Relationships and contacts help, and stellar executive brand and notable success and reputation are critical.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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