A Higher Purpose: Pivoting Your Marketing Career to a Nonprofit

A guide for a shift from the corporate world into the world of nonprofits

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2020 undoubtedly had an impact on you in some shape or form. Perhaps you had career momentum and were continuing to build on you; perhaps you were already a rockstar employee, teammate, respected leader, parent, son, neighbor or a passionate marketer grinding towards what could be next. Regardless of your life stage, you were a different person prior to March of that year.

Like many, I was comfortable with an 8-year run at an admired global brand, a 20-year track record of progress, working with incredible people on one-of-a-kind projects along the way. The future was bright, and my career was somewhat playing out as planned. But in a blink, I found myself incredibly disturbed, questioning my priorities, frustrated by the paralysis analysis around me and soul searching—revisiting what personal fulfillment looks like.

The lines between personal life and work-life disappeared. The year served as a gut check, an inspiration to refocus talents towards giving back by jumping into the nonprofit space. I call it a career “purpose pivot.”

A role at a nonprofit is not as different as one might think and can be immensely rewarding. As we enter the season of giving, let’s unwrap the business of giving back and explore if a “purpose pivot” is right for you.

The gift of helping others

Growing up in Brooklyn, I was exposed to youth organizations with mentoring and after-school programs that kept me engaged and curious about my possibilities. I learned about the power of relationships, working as a team, having empathy for others and connected with leaders just a few years older who looked like me. All of which, ultimately, helped me gain confidence and get comfortable in my own skin.

Years later, those critical skills came in handy as I was navigating the corporate environment, often as the only Latinx voice/face in the room. Never would I have imagined those early experiences would be a glimpse into the opportunities I’d eventually pursue.

Throughout the years, I realized that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. That’s the power of working at a nonprofit; they take on real-world problems headfirst. 

Marketing fundamentals apply everywhere

In theory, marketing at a nonprofit is like marketing at a b-to-b or b-to-c brand. You have goals, objectives and strategies. Albeit smaller than what you may be used to, you have an annual marketing budget.

Your job as a leading marketer is to drive brand growth efficiently and creatively by engaging and providing value to your audience—meeting them where they are, across relevant channels. Your goals may vary but ultimately should ladder up to revenue. The more revenue you drive, the more resources the organization will have to deliver impact in support of its mission.

6 Common Traits of a Nonprofit:

  1. A moving and powerful mission. 
  2. Passionate employees, driven by the mission.
  3. Respected group of board of directors.
  4. Transparency about the outcomes or impact. 
  5. Strong focus on fundraising.
  6. Full disclosure on finances.

When evaluating an opportunity at a nonprofit, consider these critical questions: 

Mission. This is often the greatest draw. Perhaps it’s personal. Does the organization’s mission resonate with you deeply? Does it have a profound effect on you?

Culture. It’s safe to assume that at a nonprofit, you’ll work with people driven to do good. Is that important to you? Every penny will count—they tend to operate at a slower pace with multiple layers to decision-making. Do you prefer a fast-paced environment where you have more autonomy?

Professional growth. Perhaps you’re managing a team for the first time or taking on a functional area you’ve been curious about and want to expand your toolkit. What will you potentially learn from this experience and new colleagues that will help round out your skills and feed your curiosity?

Management. Leadership is everything. Get to know the management team. Are you excited by their vision, accomplishments and management style?

Benefits. Experiencing first-hand the impact the organization has in the world will feed your soul. Consider it an emotional benefit. Are there other intangible rewards you may receive from the organization’s mission?

From a compensation perspective, in lieu of stock options, nonprofits may offer bonus options. Will you be able to live within your lifestyle? Is remote work an option? Review the entire benefits package.

I’m early in my “purpose-pivot” journey and can already say it is incredibly fulfilling. And yes, I work with remarkable human beings. Nonprofit organizations come in infinite shapes, sizes and colors—for every imaginable discipline.

It’s not for everyone, but you now have the considerations to help guide a career shift into the world of nonprofit. Regardless of whatever might be next for you, go make a difference.