From Education to Nonprofit Customer Support | An Interview with a Sector-Switcher

This post is the second in a multi-part series in which we’ll be featuring some of Idealist’s very own sector switchers.

No matter what field you’re transitioning out of, there’s somebody out there who’s been through it. And for those of you looking to move into the nonprofit space from fashion, retail, education, customer service, real estate, or finance, that somebody happens to work at Idealist and wants to share their story!

Meet Brian Chester, Community Support Associate for

Switched into the nonprofit sector with a background in: formal and informal education

Q: How did you first decide that you wanted to make the switch?

A: It was definitely built up for a while. A colleague had recommended I look at to volunteer and I was immediately interested. My job had a lot of ups and downs, but at its core, I really wasn’t happy because in the end, as a tutor for a private company, profit was the bottom line, whereas at a school, education is ideally the bottom line. I wanted to focus on helping people in a more general way rather than in one specific area of education.

Q: Once you realized you wanted to switch sectors, what was your approach?

A: One big leap would be how I did it. I was very nervous and doubtful I’d be accepted into a nonprofit because I assumed my background would be too unfocused. I prepared by talking to other people, including family, about the nonprofit world and the best way to show employers that I was serious about wanting to become a part of it. The people in my network who helped me to prepare asked me to reflect on what I wanted in a job. When they realized I really wanted to make the change into the nonprofit space, they helped coach me to verbalize why.

Q: What are some of the differences between working in the private versus the nonprofit sector?

A: Lots of things! Terminology was an interesting difference although I fumbled with it a bit at first. I remember enjoying the idea of referring to the people who use our site as “community members” instead of “clients” and “customers.”

Q: Are there any surprising similarities you’ve noticed between the sectors?

A: Also lots of things! Although the terminology is different, the idea is similar. The community members are the people who use the site and our product. We provide support similar to how we provide a service, but with a different goal. One of the most interesting similarities I found was the company income. As someone very unfamiliar with the nonprofit sector, when I heard the word “nonprofit,” a company that doesn’t bring in any money would come to mind, but that of course isn’t the case. All companies receive income somehow, whether it’s something they sell or by asking for donations or grants. Again the process and idea is the same, but the bottom line is different and the more I learned about that difference, the more I realized that was what I wanted in a place I worked.

Q: Has your sector switch impacted anything for you, personally?

A: My experience in attaining this job forced me to consider things I’m passionate about and interested in. Education was pretty obvious, but I’m also interested in animals and the environment. I think I’ve always been interested in those issue areas, but I have a new perspective on how I can incorporate those passions into my normal life and it just gives me such a sense of accomplishment that I’m now able to integrate them, when I didn’t even consider them before I switched.

Q: Do you have any advice for people considering a sector switch?

A: Personal introspection was the most helpful for me. It was the advice I was given too. I was told by someone very active in nonprofits that many people go into nonprofit work because they want to do good, but don’t often consider the specifics of how they want to make an impact. When I was asked to consider this for myself, at first, I kept repeating that I just wanted to work for a good organization because I wanted to feel good about my work everyday. But now, I’ve discovered that I have areas of focus as well as personal goals that are important to me. I wouldn’t have been able to convince my interviewers that I wanted to make the switch if I couldn’t get specific with it myself.


Want to learn more about Brian’s path to the nonprofit sector? Tweet us at @idealistcareers and we’ll make sure to deliver the message and share his response!

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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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    • Andrea DeSabato
    • September 28, 2017

    Hi, I am curious about the coaching Brian received and ways to verbalize why I want to switch. I am in a similar situation with wanting to switch, but not exactly sure why and how to express it to others.

  1. Reply

    Hi Andrea,

    You should always find what works best for you, but for me it was practice! It wasn’t any formal coaching that helped, I happened to know someone who worked in the nonprofit field I could talk to who would be honest with me about how I sounded to them. Although I was being earnest with why I wanted to switch, they said I sounded too vague and as though I just wanted to switch because I disliked for-profit companies. I think the questions I asked myself that helped me clarify were: “Why do you want to switch?” “What do you want to do?” and “Where do your skills fit into making that happen?” The biggest step for me was developing an answer beyond “I just do!” or “Because I would be good at it!” Eventually my new developed answers, plus my passion and conviction behind my reasons helped me to find the right words to explain.

    I hope that helps and good luck in your search!

    -Brian Chester

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