A new life after the nonprofit sector (2 years in)

In the past year, I have had a similar conversation with numerous friends who are considering other options after working in the nonprofit sector for some time. Maybe they approached me as a trusted person, who took this step over two years ago, after over eight years of running Diabetes Hands Foundation, people open up to me and see me as a potential source of advice on this topic. So I figured I’d write a blog post about it.

  1. If you have spent any amount of time in the nonprofit sector, you likely are drawn to serve people, to do things to impact the lives of people in a positive way. It may have crossed your mind that you can only accomplish this in the nonprofit sector. I used to think so too early on, and I realized I was wrong. To consider opportunities in the for profit sector, consider companies with a strong sense of social responsibility, companies that are disrupting spaces where changes in terms of access, affordability, and impact is sorely needed. To do this, look at the mission statement of the company, talk to people that work at the company and contractors/partners of the company. You may find that mission-driven companies may very well be a great next place for you to put to use the skills you developed during your time in the nonprofit sector. That is my experience I have had at Livongo, where I have been at for two years.
  2. Consider the sector you have experienced with. You likely have worn multiple hats in one or more nonprofits within the same sector, which gave you enough experience in a variety of functions. The one likely common denominator across all responsibilities you’ve had may be the sector (health, housing, etc.) you’ve worked in. That experience can be very valuable in the private sector, as you have developed a more intimate understanding of the needs of the people that your agency served. And the flexibility that you develop when you work in a nonprofit is a highly valued quality anywhere.
  3. Depending on where you are in your life journey (single/married; with children/with parent caregiving obligations), you may have different family requirements. You may have obligations that limit your ability to move. Consider which ones are flexible and which aren’t. If your biggest constraint is the potential for uprooting yourself and your immediate family, evaluate as a family your willingness to tackle it. Sometimes there may be true gems underlying what may otherwise feel like difficult choices.

These are three high-level things for you to consider if you are exploring a life beyond the nonprofit sector. I am happy to chat if you’d like to use me as a sounding board for this.

7 thoughts on “A new life after the nonprofit sector (2 years in)

  1. I spent my entire career in a governmental nonprofit sector. I considered at various times the possibility of moving but ultimately rejected the idea, or in one case they rejected me. In the end, I am thankful I stayed in. Having said that, I view the for-profit sector as a positive force in America. Neither sector is all good or bad.

    I believe that helping companies be profitable is a public service so long as those companies reinvest wisely, share profits with its employees or return profits to shareholders. Strong companies employ workers and that might be the biggest public service of all.

  2. This is really valuable Manny … so cool of you to write it. I’m curious to know as you think about nonprofit and for-profit what are the toppings the two sectors can learn from each other, broadly speaking.

    • Sorry Manny – what are the top things into sector can learn from each other, broadly speaking, even though obviously there are many differences within each!

      • I think a big lesson that nonprofits can learn from the for-profit sector is the importance of FUNDING to make the MISSION happen. You cannot fuel a mission on passion alone: it burns people out.

  3. Interesting perspective; while I agree with your views on being drawn to serve people, and to do things to impact the lives of people in a positive way, I am deeply skeptical of organizations that are often self-described as “mission-driven companies” because let’s face it, they are not charities, they are in business to earn money (and if they’re publicly-held companies, they have a fiduciary responsibility to do so).

    That’s not to say that companies are cannot have multiple objectives, only that those are often driven by the executive management team in place at a given moment in time. There are plenty of good examples of good companies gone bad (not in the profit sense) that have evolved so they no longer resemble what made them great in the first place. The best example that comes to my mind is Johnson & Johnson, which is a company that over the last 25 years has focused so much on shareholder returns that its core “credo” (see https://www.jnj.com/about-jnj/jnj-credo for the credo) hasn’t meant what it did a number of years ago. For example,

    I cannot envision this company doing what they did when 7 people in Chicago were reported dead after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules back in 1982. The company’s response to that crisis is considered legendary in business and is widely taught in business school case studies. The company implemented an immediate product recall from the entire country which amounted to about 31 million bottles and a loss of more than $100 million dollars for the company. They also halted all advertisement for the product. Subsequently, they implemented packaging changes to help prevent such an issue from occurring again.

    But in the past few years, J&J has been beset by recalls and quality issues, which I believe the company has handled rather poorly. A good case in point is how it has handled the baby powder litigation over causing ovarian cancer. Although it won in court, the fact that J&J chose to litigate the issue at all could not be more different from the 1982 Tylenol scare. That suggests changing priorities for the company now motivated more by profits than care for its customers.

    • Excellent points, Scott! You are absolutely right.

      I can tell you: the commitment to PEOPLE I have seen from the top at Livongo is what brought me there and keeps me there, inspired every day. Stuff like this.

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