Take This Job and Shove It – Break Out by Breaking Good
Oh no! The end of the Breaking Good series! This week we close it out by calling for an infusion of private sector talent into our local nonprofit organizations. It’s a concept that goes against conventional wisdom and yet it’s exactly what we need.
In other words, we’re breaking good again.
“I’d love to meet and pick your brain.”
There is no more gross and invasive metaphor for meeting for coffee than, “Let me pick your brain.” Please, don’t molest my noodle. But, do reach out. I love coffee.
I’m one of those people who typically takes the random meeting with a person hoping to plug into our nonprofit community. Charlotte’s social good universe is too small and insular to be putting up walls for people with talent and initiative. I figure, if you’ve found your way to my LinkedIn, someone probably suggested you meet with me. And, I trust my amazing referral network.
In particular, I serve as a sort of informal weigh station for people kicking the tires about transitioning their career into the nonprofit sector. I’m kind of an Ellis Island personified, where the sick and the tired who yearn to break free from the oppression of corporate America learn the definition of golden handcuffs the hard way.
It’s true, you are unlikely to earn “your market value” as the staff member of a nonprofit organization. But … when the opportunity is a good fit for you … nonprofits can offer more than just salary as a benefit of employment. For the right people, the trade-off is worth it.
Sourcing Great Leaders
Our nonprofit sector is growing rapidly. And, it’s spreading our already thin talent pool even further. As any local leader of a nonprofit will tell you, we have a bit of a talent issue. We need to consider new strategies to solve it.
Charlotte has a long history of building a talent pipeline from the private sector into our nonprofit organizations. Some of the area’s most respected nonprofit leaders began life as (you guessed it) employees in our financial institutions. Luminaries like Lee Keesler of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library and Carol Hardison at Crisis Assistance Ministry started out as executives with First Union/Wachovia Bank and Bank of America, respectively.
Our area corporations have long been a breeding ground for some of our best nonprofit talent. This is quite unlike the Triangle region. There, graduates of their higher education institutions flood the market with young people eager to commit to a life of social good. In Charlotte, our local colleges and universities have had less specific programming focused on developing this talent. Thankfully, that trend is changing with UNC Charlotte’s MPA program, Davidson College’s Impact Fellow’s program and the new Wells Fargo Center for Community Engagement at Queens University.
Charlotte is also fairly transient city. Families move in and move out as a result of corporate relocations. Sometimes, those corporate relocations bring a trailing spouse with a career in the nonprofit sector. That’s brought us some all-stars. Sadly, we have also lost some of our community’s strongest new nonprofit talent to the ebb and flow of corporate relocations, too. That continued churn of talent takes its toll.
Constructing a Talent Bridge
Which brings me back to our friends in the private sector – people who sit across from me with a latte as they struggle with trading-off of a strong salary for a purposeful life of improving our community.
The challenge is most pronounced in executives who have already spent 10+ years building a career in a specific field. Corporations in our region reward hard-working executives who show results. That widens the salary gap with nonprofits. An upwardly mobile middle manager earning $125,000-$150,000 will find salaries in the $75,000-$100,000+ range in the nonprofit sector.
So why would anyone consider this? I can tell you, the correct answer is not “so I can stop working so hard” or because “I’m considering starting a family.”You will work just as hard (if not harder) with a career in the nonprofit sector. And, while nonprofits tend to understand work-life balance better than the private sector, it is not a cake walk.
No, the reason to make this move is something much more meaningful and values-aligned. I meet people all the time who can no longer rationalize the change they want to see in the world with the way in which they spend 10+ hours working each day.
For the person who feels called to a life of social good, there are few substitutes. That includes people like Jorge Millares.
Jorge Millares — Fostering Queen City Unity
In September of 2016, the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott sparked civil unrest that cut to the core of the city. You may remember that feeling of uncertainty the week that followed, of not recognizing the city in which you live. If so, you were a lot like Jorge.
“I always volunteered with other nonprofit organizations, but never imagined that I would lead one, let alone be the founder of one,” Jorge said. “It pained me to see our community in disarray, so a group of friends and colleagues of mine felt compelled to do something about it.”
Jorge soon left a “well-paying job” at CPI Security to pursue a newly-formed nonprofit called Queen City Unity.
The organization’s mission is to drive equity and equality for all in Charlotte through programs like Charlotte Forward and the Equity Ambassador Program. In a short amount of time, Jorge has marshaled hundreds of volunteers to the cause and is viewed by many as a rising civic leader in our community.
“I wake up every morning loving what I do,” Jorge said. “Many people wake up dreading the day ahead, but when the work you do focuses on unifying your community and serving those affected by inequities, there’s no substitute for that.”
He continues: “I wouldn’t trade my work in the community for a job in the private sector regardless of the differences in salary.”
Building a Pipeline
Jorge’s story is powerful. We simply need more like him.
The flow of private sector talent into Charlotte’s nonprofit sector was robust in the years leading up to the Great Recession. However, it has largely stalled in the decade following.
It is time to actively recruit those individuals with business savvy coupled with passion for social impact. As we’ve shown throughout the “Breaking Good” series, the business model for nonprofits is quickly changing and private sector talent is an important infusion of new perspective and bottom-line leadership at this critical time.
To make this work, nonprofits will need to change the way they hire. The musical chairs that defined Charlotte’s nonprofit sector over the last decade has slowed. Today, we’re waiting as our city’s greatest nonprofit talent hunkers down to wait on the right role, realizing the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. The time has come to be seeking skills and culture fit instead of direct experience at familiar institutions.
I believe an answer lies in the conflicted eyes of my coffee companions whose hearts align when the conditions are right. They may hold the key to unlocking the next golden era of nonprofit leadership in our community.
Does this sound like you? Are you ready to align your career and your worldview? If so, hit me up on LinkedIn. We can grab coffee sometime.
This is the final installment of the “Breaking Good” series. Click here to read previous installments. Stay tuned! Josh Jacobson will continue to write about Charlotte and its nonprofit landscape in future batches of The Biscuit.
Author Photo Credit: Julia Fay Photography