The Not-For-Profit Career Option

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Charitable work won't make you rich, but it needn't be an all-volunteer proposition. There are jobs to be had in the not-for-profit sector.

Medical centers, universities, foundations, social service organizations and other not-for-profit institutions all employ financial professionals to attract assets, manage and disseminate information, keep their books, and oversee their investment portfolios. Banks employ portfolio managers and client service professionals dedicated to their not-for-profit market segment.

However, moving to a non-profit career is by no means a lay-up. As in the for-profit world, personal connections and direct experience are crucial for breaking in.

"You can't go very easily from Wall Street and say 'I now want to do non-profit work,' unless you know somebody," says J. Bud Feuchtwanger, president of the Tamarind Foundation, a group devoted to improving the sustainability of food, energy and water. To get started, Feuchtwanger recommends donating your time to one or more non-profit organizations, "and then from there you can springboard." Serving on a non-profit's board will confer credibility and spawn personal contacts, and potential decision-makers will get to know how you operate.

"Board leadership and participation is one of the first things we look for" in a candidate, said Debra Oppenheim, co-founder of Phillips Oppenheim, a specialized search firm for the non-profit sector. Because some organizations require large donations from board members, Feuchtwanger suggests starting by serving on a committee.

Paving the Way

Feuchtwanger and Oppenheim were panelists at a recent New York Society of Security Analysts "career chat" on "Transitioning to the Not-for-Profit Sector."

Preparing for a transition should include talking to as many people as possible, and preparing a resume and cover letter that reflect an interest and past involvement in a defined arena of not-for-profit work, be it health care, environment, the arts, or any of several others. "Don't envision something in a field in which you have no particular involvement," Oppenheimer said. "Search firms are one little drop in the bucket, and often search firms cannot help you."

Often a candidate's for-profit employer can open the first door to not-for-profit work. The big banks are all involved with many charities, Oppenheimer observed. They can steer you and maybe ease the way to obtaining contacts and involvement.

If you're considering a move from for-profit to not-for-profit employment, be prepared for:

Slower Organizational Decision-Making

At not-for-profits, "The CEO isn't necessarily the sole decision maker," explained Janice Schoos, head of Archimede Philanthropy Partners, which advises individuals and families about how to improve the effectiveness of their giving. Compared with the business world, "there's more of a collaborative decision-making structure and style," added Oppenheim. In addition, Feuchtwanger said spending decisions sometimes get delayed because an institution is unsure how much in donations it will attract.

Reduced Administrative Support

"If you are used to getting a lot of support, you generally will not get that at a not-for-profit," said John M. Simpson, a former private banker at Bessemer Trust who now works in the non-profit world. Even when present, the quality of clerical help is "different" from the business sector, he said. However, not-for-profits do tend to be savvy in using the Internet to disseminate their message.

Heavy Emphasis on Asset-Gathering

... or "fundraising," in the language of non-profits.

"You better have a passion for what you're doing," said Jan Adams, head of the charitable asset management group at State Street Global Advisors. "Wherever you are, whoever you're meeting, you will be expected to go out and raise funds for the organization."

Oppenheimer called fundraising "the area we find it hardest to find qualified candidates." Being a "development officer" - a senior-level fundraiser - "is lucrative and exciting, if you can get in on the ground floor with an institution you care about," she said.

Substantially Reduced Pay

Compensation for most not-for-profit jobs ranges from $40,000 to $200,000, according to Simpson. Bonuses are small or absent, benefits are usually worse than at for-profits, and only chief executives at the very largest institutions make $500,000 or more. Simpson said a "major gift officer" at a medium-sized university - a revenue-producing role - could make $50,000 to $80,000. Medical centers generally pay the most, followed by universities, he said, while social service agencies pay the least.

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