What exactly does it take to succeed in the nonprofit field?

Is it brains, finesse, education, hands-on experience, determination, self-confidence, special training. What exactly does it take to succeed in the nonprofit field?

There are many nonprofit educational programs cropping up at universities all around the country yet I honestly don’t know one person, well maybe I know a few, that actually graduated from one of these programs and is currently working in the nonprofit field.

It seems odd and counter intuitive but the most successful people I know working in the nonprofit field are people who came to the field from a more serendipitous path then majoring in the subject in college.

So what kind of path is the best path? Well, there are always many ways to succeed at anything – but I truly believe that starting out in the for-profit world, particularly in a fast-paced, demanding, high expectation environment is the best path for anyone. A couple of years or more is fine; in fact there are many people that spend the better portion of their careers pursuing careers that are completely counter-cultural to the nonprofit culture but they somehow find a path to the nonprofit sector later in life.

What happens to some people is that one day they wake up and realize there is more to life than chasing the almighty dollar – not that there is anything wrong with that, because there isn’t – but what many people often realize is they want to “give something back” or “do something more meaningful” with their professional skill and talents they acquired over the years.

People that I know that are making a difference in the nonprofit field arrived here after spending time as a marketer, lawyer, accountant, carpenter, writer, retailer, homemaker, commercial photographer, actress, banker, comedian, stock broker, priest, investment banker, and oh- a candlestick maker. You name it!

So what can we learn from this? I think the key take-away is that if you are interested in the nonprofit sector you should embrace the fact that the skills required in a nonprofit business are as varied as the types of nonprofits in the world. Nonprofits need people from all walks of life and people that bring new and unique perspectives to the mission of the organization are in high demand. The nonprofit organizations that succeed in the future will have many, many people from all walks of life with many experiences.