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

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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.

  • Melissa Cirone

    Hi Joe,

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Thank you for talking about the one thing that those of us who’ve lost nonprofit jobs in the past year avoid – the possibility that our promotion to a new job may take much longer than we’d expected. Every point you’ve made is spot on and I would urge anyone who is still in a position to think about each of these elements. Not much you can do if you don’t have a working spouse but you can think about where your area of expertise lies and start working it beyond the walls of your current position. I would also add that you may have to work your network harder than you thought. Contacts that seemed so solid when you worked for X can dry up pretty quickly when you’ve lost that identity your job provided. You have to work diligently to not become invisible and to stay relevant.

  • Joe

    Yes! All those great contacts you thought you had will fizzle. Isn’t that the truth. It’s like some rule of networking: What you think will happen (or who will help you) won’t. It can be frustration but it motivates me to stuff the pipeline and let the chips fall where they will. You have to be like a shark. Always keep moving! 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  • Mary C

    I left my social enterprise that I had founded jointly with a colleague (and I had thought a friend) about a year ago. I’d been ill and when I returned to work my co-director had changed….In the end I decided to leave and while I was intensely hurt the end result has been strongly positive. I’m now focussing on things that really interest me and have become associated with a University. However what helped was the payout I received, the fact that my partner is a lawyer and my networks and good reputation in the sector. However, I reflect that without these advantages my time would have been miserable.

  • SteveDrake


    Great post!

    First (as if this is needed), you are a recognized cause marketing leader.

    Second, you are so right that “getting fired” can open doors. I was fired from an association back in 1992. While difficult at first, I accidentally ended up starting an Association Management Company that I owned for 19 years and eventually had 28 staff. Never would have happened if I had not lost my job.

    During the my “in between successes” phase, I came to realize that finding a job (or starting a business) “is not what you know, it’s not even who you know, it’s about who knows you.”

    Thanks for sharing your lessons.


  • Joe

    Good for you, Mary. Sounds like you too made lemonade out of lemons. It definitely takes time. I’ve also come to the conclusion that few things end well- including jobs – and we just have to accept that and move on. Hurt, resentment, they just drag you down.

    Good luck!


  • Joe

    Thanks for stopping by, Steve. I remember you telling me that story at a conference. So true. Another reason to emulate you!


  • Shawn B.

    Hi Joe,

    You know what, I never even knew that your boss had given you the gift of time – I thought you had decided to quit and move on while working on your book.

    Being in an uncertain work situation myself, you might understand my own curiosity as to the reasons for your departure – in the sense of what lessons did you learn that you could impart with those of us also facing the possibility of a pink slip?

    How can we avoid it?

    Do we just need to raise more money (my boss could care less about non-revenue generating partnerships) or be more hopeful or… what?

    My impression is that you were/are a great fundraiser – if they let you go, what chance do I have? 🙂

  • Joe

    Hey Shawn,

    My team and I did raise a lot of money. But the organization was really hurting and we had failed to take that critical next step beyond transactional cause marketing to the transformative cause marketing that really, well, transforms an organization. It was a big learning moment for me on what cause marketing could and couldn’t do and how to do it better next time.

    My boss and I knew when it was time for me to move on. That’s a big lesson I learned too: don’t hang onto something when it’s not working. It will pollute you.

    I like what W. C. Fields said: Try, and if you fail, try again. But if you try and it doesn’t work don’t be a damn fool. Give up and move on!

    Hang in there!


  • Jocelyne Daw

    🙂 Another great post Joe – you are a wonder and an inspiration. I think your post speaks to so many people who have had similar experiences. The key is to know when to move on, when you’ve outgrown something and have the courage to use your power for even greater good. Happy 2012.

  • Joe

    Thanks, Jocelyne. It’s people like you and your co-authors of your last book – Carol Cone and Kristian Darigan – who gave me the courage to take the next steps. Before you blaze a trail, it’s nice to start on an established path. 🙂

  • Shawn

    Thanks so much for the response, Joe. Obviously I need to dig more into your book to get to the part on transformative cause marketing – we are still only looking at bottom line fundraising.

    I wish you the very best and if you are going to be at the 2012 Cause Marketing conference it would be great to catch up with you – my company may pay for me to go this year (fingers crossed!).

    All the best and thanks for the encouragement!