Why For-Profit Companies Should Hire Nonprofit Professionals

If you ask most people around Portland about Mac’s List, they will almost all say, “oh yeah, that’s the job board for nonprofit careers.” Yet, my company, Columbia Bank, and many other for-profit organizations also advertise here as well. Why?

Because good employees are good employees regardless of a company’s tax-exempt status, and we’ve found over and over again that quality nonprofit professionals can translate their skills rather seamlessly to the for-profit world.

My hope is that readers (and job seekers) can truly see the value of their 501(c)3 experience as a robust bridge toward for-profit work into the future. Here are the five key reasons why we as a private sector employer actively seek out nonprofit employees.

1. Nonprofit employees are extremely effective at doing more with less.

Due to the seemingly permanent condition of stressed budgets and more work than workers, nonprofit employees often become masters of efficiency and productivity. Many for-profit workers who sell, manufacture or market a single kind of widget could become quickly overwhelmed in a nonprofit environment where servicing multiple business lines is a daily norm (think social service delivery on numerous fronts for example). Multitasking in a nonprofit environment isn’t a “nice-to-have” skill, it is a requirement for survival.

2. Nonprofit employees are natural born (or organically created) salespeople.

In the for-profit world, we spend a lot of money and a lot of time training employees to be effective sellers. And while I’m in no way undervaluing that training and its results, I have found in many cases, that employees who come to us from the nonprofit world already possess these skills because they’ve been selling since Day 1.

Think about it: if you are in development you are most likely a master at donor cultivation, a super effective communicator and an extremely comfortable business pitcher. And those are the three top traits we in the private sector are constantly trying to educate in our workforce.

3. Nonprofit employees solve problems.

I have a dear friend who is an executive director and here are a just a few accomplishments to her name: she rescued a dying nonprofit four years ago and transformed it into a viable and productive organization; she completely revamped an ineffective board of directors and turned it into an incredibly efficient and effective body; and on her own time she learned three design programs and soon created first-class marketing materials for an organization that previously had none.

Certainly, that kind of problem-solving capacity would fit in very well with private sector companies who also value such attributes.

4. Nonprofit employees are really good at communicating and moving toward a vision.

If you asked a typical for-profit employee to express the mission of the company, you might not be fully satisfied with the responses. Sure, they could talk about the need to make money or keep shareholders happy, but would they be effective at truly explaining the reason for the company’s purpose? Further, could they accurately explain the strategy to achieve it? However, your typical nonprofit employee would have no trouble at all, because explaining and living the vision is something they work toward daily.

5. Nonprofit employees are exposed to leadership skills and opportunities more often and earlier.

One of the unintended, but beneficial, consequences of having to do more with less in the nonprofit world is the need – and opportunity – for younger employees to grow up fast. Important breaks to demonstrate leadership can often unveil themselves to entry-level nonprofit employees simply because there may not be a more senior employee around to do them. Therefore, rookie employees often get the opportunity to lead a project or brief key decision makers or present to key funders that are simply not available to young for-profit folks.

There are many more reasons why effective nonprofit employees also make effective for-profit ones. For your benefit (and for the benefit of me and my company) I encourage you to consider both the nonprofit and private sector for your career. A good employee can easily find happiness and bring benefit to both.