So you want to Work as a Non-Profit Executive…

10/11/2011 02.26 EDT

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Given my line of work, I am frequently asked to meet with senior-level executives who are either in transition or thinking about making a career move.  Usually, they are people who are referred to me by people I already know and they are often executives who have had outstanding, successful careers.   I always ask them a very direct question at some point in these meetings – “Have you decided what you want to do next in your career?”  Most everyone has given the question some serious thought before meeting with me and they usually have a handful of options they are considering.   More often than not, one of those options is taking their considerable success and skill in the for-profit sector and applying it to the non-profit sector.  Viewed as a way of “giving back,” this idea positively fascinates many executives.  They imagine they will bring a set of skills that will make a sleepy non-profit organization turn into a high-performing machine conquering whatever problem it was created to fix.   While certainly admirable and noble, my experience with people transitioning from the for-profit to the non-profit world is this: it is far more difficult than you might expect.  Most executives have a mental picture of non-profit life that is inaccurate and outdated – they expect to find people in leadership roles who are completely devoted to whatever cause they have embraced but who know little about management.  That may have once been true, but...