skip to Main Content

Ready For a Career Pivot? Consider Non-Profit Work

Add Meaning to Your Second Act By Helping a Meaningful Cause
Non-profit leader with clipboard organizing food drive.

A version of this article first appeared on


Whether you’re bowing out, taking a step back or seeking an entirely new line of work, a career pivot into non-profit work is a move that’s become increasingly popular with executives from many different sectors. The way they see it, this kind of work allows them to transfer the talents, skills and expertise built during a corporate career and move into meaningful work in the non-profit sector.

Facing a major life change often helps executives realize that they’re not ready to be done adding value. Especially for those considering retirement, a solid, satisfying life plan is as important as a long-term financial one, since research shows that negative health outcomes can often accompany a “purposeless” retirement.

Get Started with Discernment

To get started, you’ll find there’s significant value in spending time on reflection and discovery. Think about what your strengths are, what activities you find meaningful and what you want to spend time on. If you’d like to do this reflection in a more structured setting, consider working with a career transition counselor.

Anything can happen during this discernment. You might rediscover a long-buried interest in young people, the arts or animal welfare. Perhaps current events have encouraged you to support issues like affordable healthcare, equitable education or fair housing. Or you might feel a passion for climate change. One retiring executive recently told me, “When I retire from this job, I want to work on saving the planet for my grandkids.”

A solid, satisfying life plan is as important as a long-term financial one, since research shows that negative health outcomes can often accompany a “purposeless” retirement

Which Role Makes Sense For You?

Once you’re clear about your passions and interests, there are many ways you can make a meaningful contribution:

Part-time volunteering. Many organizations need people to help with marketing, operations, communications, fundraising and development. They’re looking for volunteers with significant experience, fresh commitment and lots of energy. The great thing about volunteering is that you can set the pace and level of commitment to work best with your lifestyle.

Board membership. If you’d like to get more involved, consider raising your hand to be a non-profit board member. Before moving forward, ask plenty of questions about board members’ time commitments and fundraising requirements, which are common on most non-profit boards.

Leadership role. You might be interested in an executive director position, or perhaps a role as a member of the executive director’s team. Just remember that the only “downshift” it will represent will likely be in your compensation package. Leadership is always hard work, and many non-profits are working diligently despite limited budgets and resources. If you’re hoping for more free time and flexibility in your second act, a leadership role may not be for you.

How to Find the Right Organization

Next, start searching for a non-profit that fits with what you learned during your discovery process. Let colleagues and friends know what you’re thinking, and add a question about non-profit participation at all your networking meetings. You might be surprised at the range of interests your colleagues represent, and they can serve as good “ins” for you with non-profit leadership.

Think about what your strengths are, what activities you find meaningful and what you want to spend time on

When you’re down to a couple candidates, ask for informational interviews with board members and leaders of your top-ranked groups. Attend events hosted by your non-profits of interest to see what resonates with you.

As you’re looking for a place to land, you’ll need to create a narrative that will make sense for a new role. Make a list of your transferrable skills and interests, so that you can convince an organization of the ways your for-profit experience will transfer to their world. Create a clear narrative that outlines the kind of work and organizations you’re interested in, and update your LinkedIn profile with that information.

Even Volunteering Is Still a Job

Whatever you do, don’t minimize the time and effort this pivot can represent. Some executives enter into a board membership or a leadership role with the attitude that it will be a major downshift, only to find that the work is just as challenging as their corporate careers ever were. Of course, the intangible rewards can be significant, as you find ways to bring all your skills to bear on a purposeful, rewarding second act.

Want to learn more? Marcia Ballinger has written a terrific book, Make the Jump: Reinvent Your Career in the Nonprofit Sector, which covers each of these topics in much greater depth.

Make the most of your next chapter. Consider a Legacy Planning engagement with Navigate Forward. These one-on-one engagements help senior leaders envision your next steps, then move forward with confidence and intention.

Previous Article
Next Article

Read More

How To Prep Your Sense Of Identity For Retirement

How to Prep Your Sense of Identity for Retirement

This Star Tribune article shows the benefits for Baby Boomers of including your passions and purpose in retirement planning.
Executives In Silhouette Meeting Around A Boardroom Table In A Sunny Office With Many Windows And Blue Sky.

Interested in Board Service? Start Your Search Before You Retire

Landing a corporate board seat can take 12-18 months. The more current your experience, the more potential value you bring to a board.
A Graphic Welcoming New Navigate Forward Team Members With Headshot Photos Of Jill Aleshire, Dan Wegner And Brad Thomas On A Maroon Background

Amid Rapid Growth, Navigate Forward Expands Leadership Team, Adds Executive Consultants

We're welcoming more new team members this spring, including the first practice lead for our flagship Executive Transition Services offering and our first full-time COO.


Get each new article delivered to your inbox.

News & Events Signup

Back To Top