Ask Annie

Second careers that make the world a better place

July 13, 2012: 12:18 PM ET

Nonprofits are actively seeking leaders with sharp business skills. Have volunteer experience raising money for a cause? You're a hot property.

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: After 27 years in finance, the last 12 as a senior partner in a successful midsized accounting firm, I'm thinking about "retiring" and trying to find work that gives something back to the community. I have served on a couple of local nonprofit boards over the years, and have some fundraising experience too. For instance, last year, I ran a series of events for the local ASPCA that raised about $200,000 to support a no-kill animal shelter in my town.

But when it comes to looking for an actual job in the nonprofit world, I'm not sure where to start. I've heard that nonprofits are looking to hire businesspeople, but what specifically are these organizations seeking, and how should I position myself to be a strong candidate? — Hoping to Help

Dear H.H.: It's interesting how many people have asked me some variation of this question lately -- but perhaps not surprising: About 9 million Baby Boomers (ages 44 to 70) have already launched "encore careers" with a social purpose, and an estimated 31 million more are interested in doing likewise, according to a study by the MetLife Foundation and nonprofit Encore.org.

Moreover, the timing for such a move seems propitious. Many nonprofits are actively seeking seasoned businesspeople (and, increasingly, they're willing to offer salaries that are closer to for-profit pay than in the past. A recent survey by Houston-based executive recruiters The Alexander Group says that, since 2007, 61% of nonprofits have hired executives from the business world, and 84% of those organizations report that these hires have adjusted to their new jobs "extremely well."

"The boundaries between for-profit and not-for-profit have been blurring for a while now," says Alexander Group managing director Jane Howze, who has done many executive and board searches for nonprofits. "We expect that opportunities to move between the two sectors will keep growing."

In bringing businesspeople on board, nonprofit hiring managers look for volunteer board experience and fundraising skill above all, the survey found. More than half (57%) have hired a new chief development officer (read: head fundraiser) in the past five years, with chief financial officers and chief marketing officers tied for second place: about 45% of nonprofits have hired one or both.

"The economic downturn has hit nonprofits particularly hard, which explains the emphasis on recruiting people who" -- like you -- "have a proven track record of raising money for a cause," Howze notes. Alas, fundraising has no direct corporate equivalent, so anyone hankering to apply for a job as chief development officer "needs to go out and do it," Howze says. "Pick a cause you're passionate about and volunteer to run a fundraising drive."

It's also possible now to get some formal credentials in the field, Howze adds. In the past few years, more and more colleges have started offering courses and degrees like Columbia University's M.S. in fundraising management, or a similar program at The Fund Raising School at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy in Indianapolis.

"But before you go after this kind of job, talk with as many people as you can who are already doing it," Howze advises. "Fundraising takes many different forms, and each one calls for different aptitudes and skills."

Someone who's good at writing grant applications, for instance, may struggle with organizing a charity bike-a-thon, or vice versa, and both are in turn quite different from soliciting "planned giving" -- that is, estate planning -- donations: "It's important to make sure you understand how a given nonprofit raises its money, and whether you have a knack for that particular approach. You want to succeed, and you also want to love what you do."

As for where to start looking for nonprofit job openings, these online resources are a good place to start:

Encore Career Finder — Scours the Internet to find more than 5 million "encore-friendly" job listings

Commongood Careers — A small, selective database of executive and middle management openings at nonprofits

Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group — A search firm that posts select senior positions at nonprofits

Opportunity Knocks — A lively and comprehensive nonprofit job board

Bridgestar — Listings for board openings and jobs at nonprofits, plus information on making the transition from the business world.

Good luck!

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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