The phone is ringing. It’s a familiar voice. A friend. Or maybe even you. Dissatisfied in the corporate world, looking for purpose, considering a leap into the non-profit sector. The story is familiar:
“I have long been unhappy in my job. The pandemic has changed my priorities and I am now considering moving to a nonprofit…
I believe I have a lot to offer as an executive, manager and speaker. I know how to drive towards results and build strategic plans, and I am known in my company as an empathetic leader. I’ve led volunteer efforts here for this XYZ thing and every year we raise more money than the year before.
I think a non-profit organization would be lucky to have my skills, my experience and of course my passion for their mission.
Oh, and I know I should take a pay cut, but maybe you can give an idea of the magnitude of that cut…”
The conversation continues as I am asked HOW I did (a nice tactical question that all too often I practically answer). And, because I’m seen as the source of answers, I fall for it and provide the answers they think they need.
As someone who has made this transition, I can tell you that understanding the difference between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors goes beyond just knowing that you will have to tighten your belt. It’s about your heart, your soul, and your drive to step into a new realm of leadership.
What I should do instead of giving people the answers they think they need to hear, asks questions that help those considering a move into the nonprofit sector think about what that move is all about. In fact mean.
Far too much relies on the success of non-profit organizations. We need strong leaders who are transitioning from the for-profit sector with not only eyes wide open, but hearts as well. So if you are thinking of moving from the for-profit sector to the non-profit sector, you need to dig deep.
Success in 501c3 lands requires a different mindset, a different relationship to power, and the volume and quality of relationships are at the heart of impact. It goes much further than simply answering the question, “What is Really like working for a non-profit organization versus a for-profit organization? »
So before you join the ranks of non-profit “superheroes” (as I like to call nonprofit leaders), here are ten questions you need to ask yourself. They are designed to help you explore the difference between nonprofit and for-profit leadership, not just on a surface level, but on a heart and soul level.
- How would you feel about “reporting” to someone who never had your job?
You’re not a solo trader and you don’t report to a board full of other business leaders who are focused on results. You “report” to a board of directors who are all volunteers and unless you are lucky none of them have ever been executive directors of a non-profit organization. They will add value in many other ways (hopefully), but this will be very different.
- Have you ever served on a nonprofit board?
If yes, what did you think of your service? Precious? Estimated? As a leader, how would you engage your board of directors to serve as ambassadors and thought partners? How did you feel the rhythm?
- Is your passion for the mission of this organization greater than your anxiety about asking for money?
I love fundraising because I know it feels good for people to give money to causes they care about AND “asking” creates anxiety. As Ted Lasso says, “You have to believe.”
- Are you excited to share your leadership? How about creating real partnerships with key stakeholders?
I know you. I was you. Type A. Confident enough that I make good decisions. It’s different here in the country across the bridge. You’ll have to build and cultivate a true partnership with your board chair. The kind of partnership where you can be vulnerable and ask for help and thoughtful partnership to solve a problem. You may have a clear idea of the organization’s vision, but you must be excited about the possibility of your board partners enriching the decisions made by the organization.
- Can you hear a stupid idea without rolling your eyes?
Board members, volunteers and donors will have ideas. These ideas will come from a good place and they are dripping with passion. But, often these people will not have enough information or context, and as a result, the ideas may seem very wrong. Really think about this one, because honoring the ideas of people who care about you will take you a long way as a nonprofit leader.
- How would you like to lead a retreat where people cry?
One of the biggest differences between working for nonprofits and for-profit organizations is that emotions run high in the nonprofit sector. People appear as their three-dimensional selves. They will wear their hearts on their sleeves. For me, this is what led me to fall in love with the nonprofit sector…but it’s not for everyone.
- What do you think are your options for “giving back” and why do you think this is the best solution?
You have to Really think about the options available to you – there are TONS of them. You could keep your current job and be a donor, board member, or provide pro bono services. Or you could play the field and not align yourself with a single organization or cause. Learn more about several issues. These are options. You need to consider them before putting all your eggs in one basket.
- Decisions can take longer because people come to nonprofits hoping to have a voice. How patient are you?
I think nonprofit leadership requires a very strange juxtaposition of urgency and patience. The big problems that nonprofits exist to solve require patience because often the problems are deep and systemic. At the same time, you cannot release the gas from the pedal. The juxtaposition of these two is not easy to calibrate.
- Have you ever donated, volunteered or attended an event for this organization?
If you find yourself interested in a role in a particular organization, ask yourself a tough question. Have you ever been involved in this organization in any way? If not, why not? And “too busy” isn’t a good enough answer.
- Do you believe that you have as much to receive as to give?
I’ve seen it too many times to count. For-profit executives who believe what a nonprofit needs is business acumen, strong management, and clear metrics. That may be true, but nonprofit executives who are open to learning, open to experience, and eager to be enriched by all that makes the nonprofit sector great? These people fly away. Ask yourself. Are you open? Are you ready to fly?
So before you go looking for people like me who left corporate America to ask us a bunch of questions, I highly recommend you have a 1:1 meeting (just you) and ask yourself a bunch of questions. These ten should get you started.
Curious about what it takes to be an outstanding nonprofit leader? Join me for this free workshop, where I’ll dive deep into the practices, mindset, and leadership skills of top superheroes in the nonprofit sector, and help you fully understand the difference between nonprofit and for-profit leadership. lucrative. Believe me, this is a real game changer.