Ask Alexis | How Can I Break into the Nonprofit Sector at 60?

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Dear Ask Alexis,

I am a retired financial services professional (just turned 60). As an “encore” career, I am seeking a full-time or part-time job in the nonprofit sector. Areas that interest me specifically include the environment and homelessness.

Since retiring, I have been volunteering extensively in those areas. Some of that volunteer work has exposed me to specific nonprofit experiences like fundraising. A number of the mid-level jobs I’ve seen posted on Idealist.org require years of specific nonprofit experience. I have applied to many of these mid-level jobs through Idealist (emphasizing the experience I do have along with my transferable skills), but have received no interviews.

I also have applied to several other jobs via networking contacts, but without success. What do you suggest, in terms of “breaking in” to the nonprofit sector? And in general, is the state of the nonprofit job market these days such that “second act” applicants such as myself have reasonable prospects of locating a position? Many thanks for your insights.

Best,

Looking for a Second Act

***

Dear Looking for a Second Act,

Congrats on the huge and exciting decision to break into the nonprofit sector. It sounds like you have a ton to offer and I’m thrilled to hear that you’ll be joining our ranks!

It’s great that you have been volunteering, as this is always a good first step toward getting to know the sector and expanding your network. Are your volunteer commitments more regular, or a la carte? If you’ve been supporting one-off efforts and initiatives, I’d suggest looking for longer-term commitments that give you an opportunity to work on projects start-to-finish, as well as the chance develop stronger relationships at the organization where you’re doing your volunteer work.

I’d also suggest throwing some pro-bono work into the mix. By finding opportunities on pro-bono connector platforms like Taproot and Catchafire, you’re expanding the Volunteer and Pro Bono section of your resume while also growing your network of nonprofit professionals. And for those hiring managers who may tend to gloss over volunteer experience, pro-bono projects may present as a bit more “legit” and impressive.

And while it’s a little unclear from your original question what kind of work you’d like to do once you break into the sector, I’d also strongly recommend sticking to what you know (for now). Just about every nonprofit has a finance person (and believe it or not, many have an entire finance department).

It may not be your ultimate dream to do something so similar to what you have been doing for the past several decades. But the easiest way for somebody with your skillset to find their place in the sector will be looking for a role that more readily welcomes and values sector switchers (finance, HR, and administration) and highlights the skills that you’re bringing along. Once you’re “in,” you’ll eventually have the opportunity to learn on the job, explore other positions in the sector, and work interdepartmentally—all of which can help you get wherever it is that you decide you’d ultimately like to be.

Additionally, if you haven’t already, I’d suggest finding a way to highlight your recent volunteer experience on your resume in a way that doesn’t simply get glossed over by hiring managers. Consider including a “Volunteer and Pro Bono” section that takes up at least as much resume real estate as your professional experience section (if not more). This is the relevant experience on which you’d like a hiring manager to focus.

And regarding your question as to the health of the sector and whether or not nonprofits are hiring, trust me when I say “Yes!” In fact, according to reports and studies conducted by the likes of Guidestar, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, and the Bureau of Labor statistics, the nonprofit sector holds the third largest workforce U.S. (behind retail trade and manufacturing). So opportunities abound!

***

Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org. If we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).

Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!

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As a seasoned communications professional with 15 years of nonprofit experience and 6 years of experience creating engaging content and copy, I love the idea that a thoughtfully crafted piece of content can spark social change. Here at Idealist Careers, I'm eager to offer job seekers, game changers, and do-gooders actionable tips, career resources, and "social-impact lifestyle" advice.
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