Workforce Transitions from the Profit to the Nonprofit Sector, by Tobie S. Stein. New York: Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers, 2002. 194 pp. $75.00 cloth. ISBN: 0-306-46720-8.
During the 1990s, corporate downsizing coincided with an increasing demand for managers in the nonprofit sector. Those trying to shift areas of employment, however, encountered numerous blocks. Stein describes a training program designed to help downsized managers make the transition from corporate to nonprofit, and she presents a set of recommendations.
Stein ran a series of five-week training programs for downsized managers seeking nonprofit jobs. This is, then, a participant-as-observer study. The author's position made her study possible, yet limited the kinds of information she could collect. The training program itself involved twice-weekly group meetings plus individual conferences with the trainer/author. Over several years, Stein had access to over 100 trainees who took part.
Stein describes the range of reactions to the training program and identifies a typical sequence of responses through the program. She describes the stress that down-sized managers experience when asked to reinvent themselves. Stein's trainees learned to emphasize dedication to the nonprofit sector, and they found they would have to accept different attitudes toward work and decision-making. The downsized managers had to develop a new kind of resume and a new way to present themselves. Training ended with mock job interviews.
Stein's research extended beyond the training program. She carried out in-depth interviews with 19 trainees. These early interviews and early training sessions provide insight into trainees' experiences in the corporate sector and rich information about their reactions to loss of status. She also interviewed 35 former trainees, and former trainees spoke at training sessions. Thus Stein can illustrate trainees' reactions to their first nonprofit job. Together, this information lets Stein identify common characteristics of trainees who made a successful job shift. Indirectly, the reader learns a great deal about work in both sectors.
Before describing the training program, Stein identifies reasons downsized managers had difficulty shifting to the nonprofit sector on their own. Blocks involved (1) differences between the sectors and (2) perceptions held on each side. There are, she points out, profound differences between mission-based organizations and profit-based organizations. In part for this reason, workplace atmosphere differs between the sectors. Corporate jobs provide no experience working with volunteers and board members, and they provide no experience generating revenue through fund raising and grants. Finally, nonprofits simply have fewer resources. Nonprofit managers, she found, expected corporate job applicants to miss the importance of these differences. Unfortunately, corporate managers they interviewed for jobs frequently reinforced their negative perceptions.
Corporate managers' lack of understanding is somewhat surprising because corporations have encouraged volunteer work, and many nonprofits have corporate managers on their boards. Nonprofits have sought corporate board members, hoping that they will help the nonprofit adopt more "business like" management of finances, personnel, and so forth. Simple growth can create this desire; grant requirements provide further incentive. A corporate board member could suggest effective ways to raise corporate funds.
Many of Stein's trainees had volunteer experience. Those on a nonprofit board should have learned something about nonprofit resources and operation, and thus something about how to present themselves in a job interview. An emphasis on volunteer experience could be important; Stein notes that nonprofit managers saw volunteer work as "a genuine sign of dedication to the sector" (p. 143). There are volunteers and volunteers, however, and some learn little from the experience. Despite volunteer experience, "untrained" corporate managers were likely to use their "corporate" resume for nonprofit job applications, and many did not understand the importance of "mission." Thus, Stein provided trainees with extensive information about the nonprofit sector.
Former trainees' descriptions of their first days on the job show further reasons for pre-job training. Apparently, few nonprofits provide new managers with a formal introduction to the organization or to the work. Stein's interviews show that without this on-job training, former corporate managers can slip back into "corporate" behavior. Perhaps nonprofits did not need formal training when they hired volunteers and people from related nonprofit organizations. These former corporate managers, however, clearly sought organizational-specific information to supplement the general information from the training program.
Stein concludes, then, with recommendations that would ease corporate managers' transition to nonprofit jobs. Some recommendations involve graduate-level training. Others are for nonprofits hiring former corporate managers. They include ideas for developing employee loyalty more generally, when the organization cannot provide expensive on-job perks or a corporate-level salary. Readers considering a possible career shift get another message throughout the book: Volunteer.