The Switch


By Leila Hunter and Alexandra Bishop, YNPNmaine Board Members

What do you think it’d be like to switch from the for profit to the nonprofit sector? Read on to hear about one of our member’s experiences!

When we think about the differences between the for profit and nonprofit sectors, a few distinctions come to mind: nonprofits are mission-driven organizations, while for profits are driven by profit; your role and job expectations are clearly defined when you work in the for profit sector, while at nonprofits, you’re more likely to wear multiple hats, even in a single day! Nonprofits operate off of a set budget and budgets are set every fiscal year, while for profits get to spend whatever they way because they always have money. Nonprofits are lead by volunteer board members that steer the organization’s decisions, whereas CEOs and Executive Directors at for profit corporations are the primary decision makers. At nonprofits, staff participate in free fun activities like going to the beach, whereas for profit employees are treated to parties in the office. Whether these are true is up for debate, but we touched base with someone who’s held roles in both sectors to find out some more information!

Liz Pettengill is the Director of Marketing, Community Outreach and Rentals Coordinator withOne Longfellow Square (OLS) in Portland. OLS is one of Portland’s nonprofit arts and concert venues offering music, performing arts, and community events. We met Liz at our February Grant Writing Workshop and had a chance to speak with her after the workshop over beers at Salvage BBQ. She shared that before she worked for OLS, she had worked in the for profit sector, and we were curious to hear her story and learn more about the switch.

Read more of her experiences below!

YNPN: What corporate organization(s) did you work for and how long were you with the company? What nonprofit do you currently work for?

LP: I’ve worked my fair share of jobs but the first really corporate career job I held in the corporate world was at the marketing firm The VIA Agency where I stayed for about two and a half years. From VIA, I moved to the nonprofit performing arts space One Longfellow Square.

YNPN: Personal story: why make the switch?

LP: I always knew I wanted to work in the arts. I have two Bachelor degrees, one in Communications and one in Dance and Performance Studies. Although I loved the agency at VIA and everyone I worked with, for obvious reasons, a switch from corporate marketing to nonprofit arts outreach and management was natural. Also, when I left VIA I left to backpack across Europe and was unsure if I would ever return, so there’s that too…

YNPN: Management: corporate vs. nonprofit. What are some of the major differences?

LP: VIA is a 20+ year organization with clear systems and management structure in place. There were always plenty of people to check your work and bounce ideas off of. OLS is only a 5 year old nonprofit organization with a small staff. I was shocked at first at how little oversight there was for my work and rapidly learned that I had to just use my own judgement and be confident in my own quality of work. It’s a much more relaxed environment and for someone who’s used to a lot of structure, I surprisingly found the relaxation in a work environment overwhelming and a bit stressful at first. I have learned to put my own systems in place and to lean into and love the more relaxed work environment.

YNPN: Salary switch…?

LP: I took a significant pay cut when I switched from corporate to nonprofit but with a strong work ethic, an open mindset to taking on new tasks, the ability to document and showcase the benefits of your work, and not being afraid to ask for what you’re worth, you can certainly see your pay scale rise.

YNPN: What skills or information did you gain during your time at a corporation that you feel nonprofits could benefit from implementing?

LP: There are a few things I learned from the corporate world that I think nonprofits could benefit from implementing, such as:

  1. Working with a systems mindset. Make sure that every employee has a clear job descriptionin writing and that they have systems in place (also in writing) for how they do their job.Enter meetings with a clear agenda of what is going to be talked about and stick to it. There is always so much going on in a nonprofit, that it is easy to get off track during meetings if there isn’t a set agenda of what is planned to be addressed
  2. The importance of employee recognition and the need for events, activities and small gestures to boost employee morale. The corporate business I worked for offered a lot of opportunities for employees to bond over non-work-related activities, such as bocce tournaments, intramural sports teams, and holiday/summer parties. They even asked me to teach yoga classes twice a week and bake cakes once a month for employee birthday parties because they knew those were interests of mine. Now, I know most nonprofits do not have the budget for quite this much, but get creative. Host a picnic for your employees, send them a note on their birthday, perhaps a member of your nonprofit’s board works for a larger organization that can donate their space or goods to treat your employees every once a in a while. I’ve implemented board and staff holiday parties in my time at OLS, complete with potluck dinner and yankee swap. It is a great opportunity for the board and staff members to come together in celebration and to get to know each other a bit more in a relaxed environment outside of work. This is something that my organization and I’m sure many other nonprofits need more of.

YNPN: Advice for those looking to make the switch?

LPGo for it, but be smart about it. Make sure the nonprofits you are looking at have a workplace lifestyle that meshes with what you want. Be sure you are okay with potentially taking a pay cut, perhaps that pay cut will come with the opportunity to learn some new skills. Be ready to wear multiple hats. Don’t be afraid of your board members. They are human beings who are passionate about your nonprofit’s mission, just like you. I was so intimidated by our board members when I first started that I barely dared to speak at board/staff meetings and the more I trusted myself and got to know them, the more confident I felt presenting new ideas to them (like hosting a holiday party for the staff). The more confident I felt, the more responsibility they trusted me with.

YNPN: Any extra bits of wisdom?

LP: The best bit of wisdom I can give from my switch is work hardtrust yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. We so often undervalue ourselves, but need to remember that hard work deserves to be rewarded.

Come meet Liz at OLS and participate in our volunteer fair and artsy networking event on the June First Friday on June 3! You’ll be able to find summer volunteer opportunities and get creative with us! Join us afterwards for a concert at OLS – tickets available in the box office.

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