The second career for burned-out bankers with a heart

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Developing an itch to do something more meaningful is rather common for people who make it to a certain level in finance, but so too is the feeling of not knowing what to do next. One option is taking on a senior role at a non-profit. New York area non-profits are in desperate need of seasoned financial professionals who have the passion and opportunity to do something more meaningful. The problem is often getting the right people at the same table and teaching them to share the same language, says Deborah Sakellarios, a senior management consultant for Robin Hood, New York’s largest poverty fighting charity. This challenge led to the creation of Leaderlink, a program designed to help senior-level private sector finance executives transition into the non-profit sector.

Launched in 2015 by Robin Hood and executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, Leaderlink is in the middle of its third round of recruiting. They’re looking for “sector switchers” – senior financial management pros with the desire to start a second career at organizations that help the less fortunate. The program was developed to recruit financial professionals, train them to better understand the sector, and eventually help them land paid senior and director-level positions at non-profits that fit their particular passion.

“We noticed all these people who wanted to make the switch to the non-profit world but who didn’t have the tools or the network,” said Sakellarios, a former management consultant who herself made the jump by joining Robin Hood. Leaderlink has worked with investment bankers, hedge fund managers, traders, accountants and corporate executives, among others. Several former participants are currently CFOs and directors of finance at highly-visible non-profits.

The program itself is much more than a networking opportunity. The eight sessions include formal training on the sector, financial management education specific to non-profit environments, mock interviews, resume help and one-on-one mentoring from those who have made a similar transition. “People who haven’t worked in the space tend to have a different orientation and mindset – the financial decision-making is different at a non-profit,” said Cassie Scarano, managing director at Koya. “We help them pull out their applicable experience and translate it into a language that is more accessible to people they’ll meet in this world.”

After the core program ends, Leaderlink makes introductions, including with charities that Robin Hood supports, and provides ongoing job search assistance and mentoring, even after people land a job.  “The official connection ends after a year, but I’ve stayed in touch with every participant in some way, shape or form,” Sakellarios said.

Who they’re looking for

The ideal candidate for the program is someone with at least 10 years of experience in a private sector finance role with strong quantitative and analytical skills. But they’re also looking for people who have a previous connection and dedication to non-profits, whether it be volunteering, working at a church group or supporting an alumni network, said Scarano. “These are absolutely not slow-down jobs.” Charities that Robin Hood supports and other non-profits are interested in people willing to dedicate 10 years toward their second career.

Another prerequisite is an understanding that you’ll likely be taking a step back financially. Some participants take a 50% pay cut, Scarano said. “That’s part of what we’re looking for. People who see this as a lifelong dream and who are able to be flexible on compensation,” she said.

Ten of 15 participants in the first round of recruiting have been hired into senior-level positions at non-profits, with two joining a board for the first time. Eight of the 17 people who were accepted into the second cohort are working in the sector, with three taking board seats. The others are still working with Leaderlink on finding a senior role, though two participants decided not to pursue a transition and remained where they were. “That’s a win for us,” Sakellarios said. “Some participants will come in and realize it’s not the right move or the right time. Helping them understand that early on rather than after nine months is good for the individual and the non-profit.”

The deadline to apply for the upcoming round is Nov. 2. Interviews run through the end of the year, with the top 15 or so invited to join the program. The active sessions run from January through March on Friday mornings. Click here to apply or to learn more.

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