MyCareer@PND

PND is pleased to offer articles of interest to jobseekers and prospective employers. To submit an article for consideration, e-mail Emily Robbins at ecr@foundationcenter.org.

My First Year as a Business Professional in the Nonprofit Sector

"Dear Candidate: Thank you for your interest in our organization. While your qualifications were impressive, this was a highly competitive process, and we are not able to extend you an offer at this time...."

During the eight months it took to transition from my first career in the private sector to my new role in the nonprofit community, I heard this sentiment more times than I care to remember. It was difficult, in the face of such rejection, to persevere and continue searching for the right opportunity, but I am so glad I did. Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me share my background and the experiences that led to my role as a ProInspire Fellow working at Good360.

In the winter of 2011, I made the conscious decision to redirect my career path. I had been working as a financial advisor for nearly three years, helping people make informed, strategic investment decisions to attain their financial goals. Was I good at it? Yes. Did I feel passionate about the work I was doing? Not really. I was attending a region-wide business conference when my mentor said, "You owe it to yourself to love what you're doing each day." While seemingly simple, that statement provoked a great deal of self-evaluation and was the catalyst that forced me to re-evaluate my professional goals.

That advice ignited my determination to find a career where I could combine both my skills and my passion to work for social good. Call me an idealist, but if I am going to spend upwards of fifty hours each week at work, it has to provide more than just a paycheck.

After months of networking, applying, and interviewing, I found myself accepted into the ProInspire Fellowship, a year-long program that places young leaders from the corporate sector with a nonprofit organization and then supports their transition through monthly training sessions and individual coaching. ProInspire placed me with Good360, an organization that secures corporate product donations that may otherwise end up in landfills, and distributes them to a network of more than thirty-six thousand charities serving millions of people in need.

I found the experience of simultaneously changing jobs and switching sectors both rewarding and challenging. While preparing to make this transition, I was told that my new position would provide exposure to many roles since I would be asked to wear multiple hats. In hindsight, I took that advice too lightly. In the private sector, I had the luxury of setting my own schedule and determining my daily tasks. I equated this variability with the challenge of the many hats I would wear in my nonprofit role and assumed my ability to multitask and remain well-organized would make me immune. I was wrong.

I came to Good360 as "Manager of Business Development and Special Projects." My primary job functions (hats, if you will) were fundraising through individual marketing campaigns, seeking grants, and organizing events. As promised, this position presented me with multiple roles that I learned to juggle and prioritize with time. The importance of prioritization became clear when Good360 decided to hold a fundraising luncheon following a conference in New York City. This was the first off-site event I was charged with planning, and the complexity of the task was amplified by an extremely shortened timeline.

With this in mind, I collaborated with the communications team to send out formal invitations. It was a cross-functional effort, as there is always extra pressure to create successful collateral at a nonprofit organization; with a tight budget to adhere to (if any at all), it is essential to be effective communicators when opportunities arise. Working with our finance team, I reached out to potential contributors to secure sponsors to subsidize our costs. Finally, I investigated local restaurants, catering options, and transportation to deliver guests to and from the event. The entire luncheon went smoothly — barring a slight miscommunication with the transit company — and my organization deemed it a success.

By spending my first ten months in a cross-functional role, I gained both a holistic view of how Good360 helps those in need and a deeper understanding of how each department — not to mention colleague — works independently and interdependently. Given the opportunity to repeat my fellowship year, I would intentionally select a cross-functional role. I think it is critical to be a pivot player, someone who is willing to think of her position as more than a list of specific responsibilities. At a nonprofit, where every resource is stretched in order to deliver on mission, I have learned that my job is to do whatever is needed most. It may not always fit into my job description, but having the reputation of a team player is beneficial.

As I come to the end of my fellowship year, I am excited to share that Good360 has invited me to stay as director of financial services. I am excited and honored to take on this next challenge and feel that after spending nearly one year learning about each department within the organization, I have the benefit of confidently identifying a position where I will thrive long-term. This transition, like all the ones before it, is exciting, albeit challenging, and provides an opportunity to define my role and refine my skills.

When I look back at the last ten months, I see my time in the nonprofit sector as a fluid experience that has allowed me to gain exposure to opportunities and jobs that would not have occurred in the more traditional, structured roles of the corporate world. As my time in the nonprofit sector continues, I am sure I will be exposed to an even greater number of transitions, and I am looking forward to the challenge!

Gillian Perron was a ProInspire Fellow at Good360, an organization which works to fulfill the needs of nonprofit organizations through corporate donations of unused and excess products.