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. More

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