You want a job that matters. Executive recruiter Laura Gassner Otting, who founded the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, knows what that’s all about.

For the last decade, her Boston-based firm has helped fill the shoes of chief executive officers, chief financial officers, directors of communication, vice presidents of development and project managers for a panoply of nonprofits, including the Kellogg Foundation, Civic Ventures, Boston College, the National Urban League and Special Olympics International.

The nonprofit sector is a bright spot in a tight job market. Last fall, 42 percent of 3,000 nonprofit organizations surveyed said they expected to hire new staff, according to an poll.

“There’s no doubt that nonprofit hiring from the corporate world is on the rise,” says Gassner Otting. “Recent seismic economic shifts, increased board savvy, and a retiring but still active baby boomer population have changed the landscape of hiring.”

But good intentions aside, unrealistic expectations on both sides can make for a rocky partnership. In an interview with, Gassner Otting shares six tips for making a successful transition to a nonprofit career.

1. Be careful about being the first one in
. Do a background search on the organization’s board and the staff, and see if there are others on board who have business backgrounds. Just because a nonprofit says it wants to bring in best practices from businesses doesn’t mean it necessarily knows how to, or is sold on doing so. “You fail because no one knows how to harness your talent or has their heart in the hiring decision,” says Gassner Otting.

2. Make the “why now” not all about you, or all about them.
No one wants to hear ‘I woke up and I couldn’t live another day without giving back.’ And a proclamation that your business smarts will save the nonprofit is a deadly sin. “We want to hear why you want this specific job for this specific cause and how it resonates with your personal story,” she says. “Getting good at explaining this is essential.”

3. Show them the money. You may not know how to work with foundations or may not have done fundraising. But if you understand how to sell a product, for example, you can diversify an income stream in a nonprofit that makes you unique and less risky.

4. Serve on a board. It’s a great way to get known by an organization, to get known in the field, and get experience with the pace of the sector — it can be slower. It’s also a good way to build a network.

5. Get active. Beyond getting on boards, volunteering and consulting, just showing up to nonprofit events for causes that interest you will confirm your commitment to making the transition, and you’ll build your network at the same time.

6. Know your numbers. The pay generally is less. Do some thinking about your “need to make” number and their “want to make” number. “An acceptable offer will typically come somewhere between the two,” says Gassner Otting.

By Kerry Hannon

SecondAct contributor Kerry Hannon is a Contributing Editor for U.S. News & World Report and the author of Whats Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job.

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