For-Profit Execs: Are you ready for the big crossover?

Posted on 07. Oct, 2009 by in Boards Behaving Better, Career, Nonprofit

After years of straddling the line between nonprofits and for-profits (many nonprofits recruit board members from the corporate sector), there’s one conversation I have with the for-profit executives pretty frequently.

It always starts like this: “I’ve worked at OmniCorp for 20 years. I’m thinking about moving to a non-profit …”

The nonprofit world is alluring to for-profit executives, and their motivation is almost always pure and altruistic. They see the move as one where they can loosen their tie — or cut it off altogether — take a pay cut and change the world.

And while that may be true, the transition is often more challenging than some executives expect. Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Are you ready for fuzzier math? While the business sector’s primary goal is to make a profit for shareholders through the sale of goods and services, nonprofits strive to be agents of change, which is usually tougher to measure.
  • Are you ready for a whole new kind of marketplace? In the business sector, outcome measurements are driven by shareholders; in the nonprofit sector, funders drive outcome measurements.
  • Are you ready for less support? Nonprofits tend to be Google Play Store Download high on commitment to mission but low on investing resources in staff, such as improving compensation, on-going education, cross-functional training, and retirement planning.
  • Are you ready to get involved in multiple disciplines? At many nonprofits, there is an understanding that “we’re all in this together.” In addition to their original job description, many executives end up becoming de facto CIOs, CFOs, or CMOs.
  • Are you ready to work hard? I mean, really hard? Almost all executive jobs are tough, but many executives who move to a nonprofit indicate that they are working harder than they expected, since existing management talent is overextended.

If that doesn’t scare off my executives considering a crossover, we then start talking about how to make the crossover happen, which we’ll save for a separate post.

If you have answered “yes” so far, the next steps involve creating a resume and biographical sketch outlining the transferable competencies that would add value to a nonprofit. If you have never served on a nonprofit board, now is the time to explore missions that you want to pursue and offer to join a board committee. All nonprofits welcome expertise on their committees, and this is the spring-board to a governance role. With this in hand, you are ready to take your leap.



2 Responses to “For-Profit Execs: Are you ready for the big crossover?”

  1. Earle L. Bradford 15 October 2009 at 10:18 am #

    As someone who has made that transition, I can say that your observations are on target. The most significant issue for me was the fact of the different kind of marketplace, where the funders determine the outcome measures. Unfortunately they don’t allow effective benchmarking of performance. They have a tremendous amount of information but are unwilling to share data which could allow agencies to target, and ultimately achieve, a higher level of performance. The lack of transparency maybe empowering for the funders but results in suboptimal outcomes.

  2. Kirt Barden 15 October 2009 at 6:29 pm #

    You are right on! I made that transition two years ago.