Business Brains

Could you do more good in the non-profit sector? Maybe, maybe not.

Posting in Sustainability

Smart non-profits are looking to the business world for leadership. Where can you have the most impact on the planet?

The good-deed doer in me occasionally incites a moral debate prompting me to consider what it would be like to work for a non-profit organization, like one of the green causes I write about, rather than working for-profit for little ole me. Actually, not just for me but for one of the my clients such as this very same blog site.

Like many people who ask themselves this question, I have this niggly feeling that I could be affecting more change by doing something different with my communications skills.

So far, I haven't taken the plunge primarily because I watched a really smart person whom I respect very much move over to the non-profit sector only to move back into media several years later for the very simple reason that she needed more financial stability than her present position could afford. Since I sort of appreciate financial stability, I've stopped short of exploring this option.

But now I know how to ask myself that question more methodically the next time I'm thinking about it, thanks to a blog post over at the Harvard Business Review blog site that was written by Wayne Luke, partner with The Bridgespan Group, a consulting company to non-profits and philanthropic organizations that is itself a non-profit.

In his post, "Move to a Non-Profit? First, Ask Yourself These Three Questions," Luke shares the self-reflection that convinced him to leave his position in the commercial sector in 2008 (he has held a variety of top-level corporate recruiting positions) and move over to the non-profit world. He's now in charge of BridgeSpan's talent-matching service (I love the subtle nuances of that name vs. recruiting). Here are the three most important positions you must ask yourself first, according to Luke:

  1. Why do you really want to make this move? If you see this as just another way to expand your job search options, think again.
  2. How do you feel about your current non-profit involvements, whether as a volunteer or board member? For that matter HAVE you volunteered?
  3. What do other think of your plans to switch? If your friends and people you trust can SEE you in this position, that says alot.

Frankly, I consider myself blessed to be writing about pretty much the most fascinating business beat that any journalist could wish for -- green technology and sustainable business. For now, at least, I feel like I'm doing my good writing for a for-profit organization like CBS/CNET/ZDNet than otherwise. Which sort of answers the question about where I should be right now in my career.

The intensely cool news is that corporate sustainability positions allow those who feel really passionately about a cause to take on that cause under the umbrella of a commercial organization, which might have more money to spend than a non-profit on affecting change. Of course, with that change WILL be a corporate agenda, so that's the trade-off (if you view it that way).

And there is always the reverse: Now more than ever, non-profits will find seasoned and smart business executives who have a wealth of experience in the corporate world and who could bring a new commercial perspective to their activities.

Frankly, there's a wealth of opportunities to do-good in either the for-profit or non-profit world.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure