June 18, 2012; Source: U.S. News & World Report

Alison Green has identified eight excellent rules for people considering switching from employment in the for-profit world to working for a nonprofit. Most, if not all, of these rules will be instantly recognizable to seasoned nonprofit professionals. Her rules include: pay at nonprofits may or may not be as good as with for-profits; for nonprofits, passion matters, but is no substitute for competence, accountability, and accomplishment; and because some nonprofit positions are grant-dependent, it’s important to know in advance whether there’s a time clock on the budget for the position you’re considering.

Her list assumes one is considering seeking employment in a charitable organization instead of a trade association, private club, or the 25 or so other types of nonprofits recognized by the IRS. This isn’t a bad assumption, given the number of charities and the number of people charities employ.

She also assumes that the charities the job-seeker is considering are small or mid-sized human service or social service organizations. It’s important to remember that many universities, hospitals, and other nonprofits are multi-billion dollar organizations with thousands of employees with operations in several states or even nationwide. Moving from for-profit to nonprofit doesn’t necessarily mean moving from a larger employer to smaller one.

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One trend we’ve seen that was not addressed in the article is that of the successful sales executive seeking meaning in their life by joining a nonprofit as a development director or development officer. While some aspects of fund development resemble sales, there are subtle yet profound differences in ethics, communication, and perspective that cause many career-changers, and their nonprofits, significant heartburn.

One rule to add to the list is to consider volunteering for a few nonprofits before seeking employment with any nonprofit. Those considering moving to the nonprofit sector should take the opportunity to learn about nonprofit practices and culture up close and personal before making the leap. –Michael Wyland