These are some tips from a workshop that I presented at Monday’s Boomer Job Fair at JVA. Click here for photos.
Recent research, including JVA’s 2007 community assessment for Rose Community Foundation, shows that boomers want to give back in this next phase of their lives, and many are interested in doing so by working for a nonprofit organization. From our work with thousands of nonprofits for almost 22 years, and through our work researching what the boomer generation wants next and training organizations how to effectively use boomers, JVA has compiled some ideas that will hopefully help you as you look for your encore career in a nonprofit organization.
In looking for your encore career, it’s helpful to keep the following five tips with the convenient acronym of PEACE in mind.
1. Passion—demonstrate your passion for the issue, the cause, the clients, the organization and specifically the job for which you are applying. Give specific examples of why this matters to you. And if you can’t think of examples, stop and think: Is this really the right fit for you?
2. Experience—translate your business experience into concrete examples of how it can help the nonprofit. Don’t assume that someone will understand that your ability to close sales may reveal a hidden talent for fundraising. Understand enough about the organization and issues it is facing that you can give specific examples of similar issues you have addressed in prior work.
3. Arrogance—get rid of it! While we’re sure no one reading this is guilty, many of us have had the experience of someone from the business sector coming into an interview with a list of ways to “fix” our nonprofit or let us know that it was time to run nonprofits like a business.
There is a degree of suspicion among some—by no means all—nonprofit leaders that people transitioning from the private sector don’t get nonprofits. The best way to turn that suspicion into a confirmed belief is to announce in broad strokes what you can bring to the organization that they don’t have. Instead, show your preparation and interest in joining the sector by acknowledging the differences and the relative strengths of each sector, and demonstrate your ability to work with the team.
4. Connect—with those who can help you. It does make a difference, and for two reasons. I may regret sharing this, but there are people who have obtained interviews at JVA because someone I knew and respected called or emailed and said a specific candidate was a good fit for us. It won’t get you hired, but it will get you in the door. Do make sure it is a good connection. Referrals from people who are barely known by the employer won’t add much, and referrals from people who refer all the time without considering whether someone is a good match are disregarded.
There is another reason to network and connect, and it’s the traditional one. The more people who know that you are looking for a position in the nonprofit sector, and specifically what you are looking for, the more opportunities will come your way. It’s helpful if you are focused about what you want; e.g., I am interested in using my law degree and prior policy work to do some advocacy on health care reform.
5. Experience (yes, again) and training—help you show that you have an understanding of the sector. Showcase your volunteer experience, and if you haven’t volunteered much, do so at an organization whose mission is really compelling to you. Or maybe suggest an unpaid internship, through which you work on a project of value to the nonprofit that might otherwise not get done. Make sure you are emphasizing what you can contribute, not just what you would like to learn.
Take some classes in an area that interests you—e.g., nonprofit fundraising or financial management—so that you understand the differences and similarities in the sectors. Being able to explain how your experience moving customers through a sales pipeline is similar to the principles of donor acquisition, retention and upgrading may be just the edge you need in that next interview. To see some classes that JVA offers that might help you, click here.
Stay focused and confident. There are really rewarding jobs in nonprofits and one of them may be for you!