5 Things I’m Glad I Had When I Lost My Nonprofit Job (Voices from the Field)

Next week will be eight months since my employer promoted me to a yet to be named position at another company. I was optimistic about my prospects on my last day. I still am. I’m open to the right full-time position, but I’ve also been working away at building my own business and earning a living from writing, speaking, and consulting on cause marketing and social media.

I owe my success to five things I couldn’t be unemployed without.

A working spouse. The best thing about two incomes is that it’s easy to lose one but harder to lose both. Both husband and wife working full-time isn’t easy when you become parents. We have two kids and know firsthand the strain two careers can put on a family. We’ve struggled with it for years. But the blessing of a second paycheck when the first disappears is better than severance, unemployment, and COBRA combined. It’s taken the edge off hunting for work and replaced anxiety—and, thankfully, the desperation I hear so often in the voices of the unemployed—with drive.

My blog. Selfishgiving.com, which I’ve written since 2004, was the seed for my new venture. But, more importantly, it’s a digital mirror of my interests, ambitions, and independence. Writing my blog has confirmed what I always thought was true: power is inborn, and transcends anything external. When I left my job my power went with me. Of course, your power might be something other than a blog. No matter. Just remember that it emanates from you and no pink slip can extinguish it. On the contrary, job loss might be the very thing you need to unlock your power.

A niche. Being an authority on cause marketing and social media and how they relate specifically to small nonprofits and businesses has helped me grow my business. It wasn’t enough that I thought I was good at what I did—others had to believe it too. In addition to my track record in the nonprofit world since 1993, I was the one who was writing and speaking about cause marketing. I am not the most knowledgeable or successful practitioner in my field, but I’m regarded asknowledgeable and successful because I talk and write about cause marketing more than anyone else. It’s not enough to show up at the game and sit in the stands with everyone else—you need to be that person that everyone sees on the Jumbotron. Speaking in your field, blogging, and writing about your work and engaging others on social media can help. A lot.

A network. I’m not a natural networker. I’m outgoing but not social. This means I’m friendly and talkative but I hate dinners, networking events, even hanging out in a bar. I drink alone. But I have a good network of friends and business contacts, thanks to Twitter. After writing my blog, signing up for Twitter was the second best thing I ever did for my career. I’ve made tons of contacts and friends, it feeds my outgoing nature and preference for weak ties, and it stimulates me with new ideas. Maybe you too could benefit from joining Twitter. Regardless of where you get your network, you need one. It’s the one thing I hear job seekers talking about most, especially if they don’t have a source of power (e.g. blog) or a niche, both of which are natural network-builders.

Unemployment insurance. I was so heady about my prospects when my last day arrived. I almost did my employer a favor and turned down unemployment insurance in exchange for a little extra severance. They knew better and were only too happy to oblige me. Fortunately, a friend nicely told me I was being arrogant and stupid. She was right. Unemployment has filled the gaps between paychecks and has done exactly what it was meant to do: given me a small income to fall back on.

If you think you might be losing your job soon, now’s the time to talk to others who already have. They can teach you a lot about what and what not do and how to navigate such things as unemployment insurance.

But just don’t react to the prospect of being unemployed. How will you respond to the opportunity? Do what I did: tap your source of power, understand what you’re really good at that people will pay for, and explore ways to use and grow your network.

When it comes to your career, every day is a good day to plant seeds. You may be surprised by what grows.

Joe Waters blogs on cause marketing and social media at Selfishgiving.com. He’s the co-author of Cause Marketing for Dummies.