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.

3 Secret Weapons for Nonprofits

As you may know by now, the past seven years I have been President of Diabetes Hands Foundation, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that aims to connect, empower, and mobilize people touched by diabetes for positive change, so that nobody living with diabetes may feel alone.

In the process of growing the organization, we have encountered a number of valuable tools and resources that have been instrumental in support of our mission. I wanted to share three of them that I have been meaning to write about for some time:

1) Techsoup
Nonprofits need software. But software can come in at a steep price, specially packages like Adobe PhotoShop and others that are important as part of creating and maintaining your nonprofit brand. Enter Techsoup!

They aim to connect nonprofits, charities, or public libraries with tech products and services, plus learning resources to make informed decisions about technology. Their free resources are available to all users. Once registered and qualified with TechSoup, nonprofits and libraries can access donated and discounted products and services from partners like Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, Intuit, and Symantec.

2) Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group
Nonprofits (as any other business) also need insurance. The Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group provides a stable source of liability insurance tailored to the specialized needs of the nonprofit sector, and assist their members with programs, tools and training that minimize their risk, protect their clients, employees and volunteers. Not only are they tailored for nonprofits: they are more affordable than other alternatives.

3) Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley
One of their programs is the Latino Board Leadership Academy, which is a bootcamp of sorts, that trains Hispanic executives in Silicon Valley to become the best possible nonprofit board members. We came to their 2014 “Nonprofit Match Night” and loved it. Indeed, we recruited one of our current board members that night! They interviewed me about my impressions on the event:

4 pieces of advice for nonprofits

As I was replying to some very interesting questions from a friend that runs another blog (a REAL blog, one that posts every day!) I found myself compiling some pieces of advice for others in the nonprofit sector. Hope you find these four to be valuable. If so, drop me a line in the comments…

Be very specific about what you want to accomplish (your mission), and focus on it obsessively. You will be approached with opportunities that look like shining objects. Evaluate them vs. your mission: if it’s not a good match, feel empowered to say NO to them. Otherwise you will find yourself down the road wondering why on earth you are doing X or Y program.

As part of your efforts to focus, consider in a selfless way if the mission you wish to accomplish may be best served by an existing group. Feel confident enough to approach others with the thought of joining their ranks, for the greater good, bringing your focus and passion to a platform that may help you bring it to another level. Alternatively, consider fiscal sponsorship as a mechanism to bring your mission to life, without taking on the complexities underlying running a full-on 501(c)(3) organization.

When it comes to funding, you need to think about it. There’s no getting around it. You need to balance the passion that drives your mission and makes you wake up every day, ready to take on the world, with the business savvy to know that you need financial support to keep that effort going for as long as it’s needed (which in the case of diabetes nonprofits, seems like it’s going to be a while!)

Make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, whether it is a corporate sponsor, a big foundation, or a donor. You need to strategically diversify the sources of funding for your work.

Pay close attention to the signals around you. The signals may come in the form of trends in your sector (some of the things I described earlier), and outside of your space (the direction of the economy, government policies, national or global statistics, how a particular category of companies is performing, etc.) These will help shape your strategy and help make sure that the approaches you take to keep your mission going strong are consistent with the realities that surround you.

Be willing to let go. It’s very easy to become attached to things you used to do, or the way you used to do them. Once you focus, diversify, and listen, it follows that things will change: you will find there are things you need to stop doing because they are outside of your focus (mission), things you may have to stop doing because you cannot afford them (funding), and things that it makes no more sense to do (or to do the same way) because the conditions that existed when you first started doing them have chanted (listening).

Be brave and learn to let go… it will liberate you and you will be able to do better what you do best.