Moving from Private Sector to Nonprofit in my 40s
June 1, 2015 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I have some good ideas about how but how about where? I'm almost 47, I have deep experience in operations engineering and development operations, as well as a very diverse collection of soft and nonprimary tech skills. I want to move from private industry to nonprofit. And I would love your help targeting my job search.

So my skills include:
- IT architecture/asset management
- information security
- technical writing
- project management
- technical analysis
- cultivating and maintaining knowledge bases
- Sharepoint
- management
- communications
- food/drink
- old and new techs (6502 assembly all the way through Ruby/On Rails, Python, PHP, Chef, Perl, C#, Java, SQL And T-SQL)
- and more!

My interests are pretty focused but I'm having trouble brainstorming/researching the right organizations or categories of organizations to target for job/internship searches.

My primary interest is in organizations trying to close technology gaps between the main techie thrusts (and in the Bay Area, where I live, there are a lot of these) and those at risk of or already being left behind. The Long Now Foundation is sort of doing this, but also planning for the future and durable, long-lived data. There are plenty of employment-related organizations that do training in basic computer skills for any job seeker, but there are fewer focused on, e.g., the older folks who are steadily getting left behind and alienated by our continued forward progress.

What I'm looking for here is help finding more and more likely organizations doing this kind of work. I'd love help with specific organization names, but also with market verticals, products and services, key words, and any collection of or grouping of these kinds of organizations (if any).

And to make it clear, I'm willing to ditch all or most of the Tech experience I have and look at jobs that are solely in support of a non-profit, like grantwriting or other administration. I want to do good work, and I don't mind if it doesn't use any of my IT skills or knowledge, though I would be happy if it did, too.
posted by kalessin to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have worked exclusively in nonprofits and note that one major capacity they tend to be missing is IT support. Many nonprofits cannot support a full time IT support person, so they contract out and have a consultant who is available some of the time. You could start out being such a consultant and thereby getting to know several nonprofits right away while directly using your IT skills. If you can use your knowledge of SharePoint and communications to find a way to be available remotely more of the time that's a bonus. This could be a way to search for just the right match where you would offer your IT skills forward as part of the services the nonprofit provides.

In the long term, I'd be selling the idea that you could be the organization's full time IT support if they also are hiring you to provide trainings, etc as part of the organization's services. This would likely work best if you feel good about working with young people. Many youth-serving organizations (after school programs and youth job training programs, etc) seek to offer industry certifications that have real value in the job market. If you can train kids/young adults so that they get certifications that qualify them for IT jobs AND can offer full time IT support to the youth-serving organization at the same time then you will be a valuable person indeed.
posted by cubby at 1:12 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would love to hire you. However, reading between the lines you could just want to get your feet wet on a "little project" to understand how the sector works. I would suggest you look at TapRoot Foundation, which matches skills with non-profits for fixed term work experiences. It is a great way to get some experience without necessity of job change, knowing you are working on something meaningful.
posted by parmanparman at 1:34 PM on June 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think I'm "all-in" (and my living situation/finances are good to support a move to lower pay for greater good) but I get that folks need more than just my word, so thank you for TapRoot, and I'll see what I can do to build my non-profit portfolio. Please keep suggestions coming!
posted by kalessin at 1:38 PM on June 1, 2015

I will suggest that just about demographic where you have needy (poor) people will put you in contact with people who are falling on the wrong side of the digital divide. You can probably go to just about any organization serving the poor -- homeless, elderly, sick, etc -- and find the gaps that most interest you.

I will also suggest that you could look around at what organization are conveniently nearby and try to doing a little volunteer work to start assessing what really goes on behind closed doors. It is also possible that if you do volunteer work and then find a grant to get yourself funded, you can write your own job description. I was basically offered that opportunity at one point but was not able to follow-through due to my health issues.
posted by Michele in California at 1:45 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're all-in, you could cold call groups you really want to work with, suggesting only to meet to discuss what you could do with the qualities and qualifications you see yourself using. Grant writing is something 'vaunted' but really it's dead easy for anyone who can follow written directions to write one. Focus on procurement, since prices win grants more than words will.
posted by parmanparman at 1:50 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Drawing in extremely broad strokes, there are two career paths for tech people in the nonprofit sector: one is working in smaller organizations and kind of having to do a little bit of everything -- comms, fundraising, IT, web development, etc. The other is working in medium and large organizations with a lot more specialization. It sounds like you're after the former, but you should think a bit about what you're after.

Something tells me you should connect with CTN Bay Area. They're doing really important work on digital divide issues in the bay area, staffing computer labs and running computing classes at low-income housing centers, community centers, etc. The woman who runs the organization has a really good network and would probably give you a bunch of other ideas about who to talk to in the Bay Area.

One word of advice: learn as much as you possibly can about an organization and how it thinks about its work and mission before you talk with them. We all have stories of people who entered the sector wanting to "give back" and were either incompetent dufuses or self-promoting weirdos.

One more thing: the Nonprofit Technology Conference is in San Jose next year. You should definitely go. You'll learn a lot about different types of career paths in nonprofit tech, and make a bunch of good contacts. I know multiple people who've gotten jobs at NTC.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:17 PM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work as a software trainer for a company that makes a CRM for nonprofits. Before this, I worked in fundraising in nonprofits for several years.

The comments above are all great. I have attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference the last two years and it's a fantastic gathering of like-minded people. The organization that runs the conference, Nonprofit Technology Network, does a lot of other online and offline events throughout the year. 501 Tech Club is their local series of events. Most major cities have one. NTEN also has an online job board.

One thing to remember about the nonprofit sector is that it can be a bit.. behind when it comes to tech. Many nonprofits have very outdated technology and software. In my job, I work with a lot of older people who have been with the nonprofit for years and are very unfamiliar with and scared of technology. It's unfortunate, but true.

A lot of nonprofit staff will have no clue what you're talking about when you tell them you have experience with Ruby or PHP. Make sure that you're speaking to them in layman's terms about how your expertise can help them: can you assess and maintain their IT infrastructure so that their internet doesn't go down as often? Can you build them a new database to track client information? Can you help them implement new software? These are the things that they need but they don't know where to find someone who can do them.

Good luck! DM me if you have other questions.
posted by anotheraccount at 3:08 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kalessin, I don't have any experience with non-profits in California, but I have served on boards of two different non-profits that had a technology focus in the metro where I live. Seeing that you are in the Bay area, I expect the non-profit community is large enough that there will be some groups that specialize in technology and serving other non-profits (that is the situation in my metro). Like most states, California has an association for non-profits to network - in your case, the California Association of Non-profits, which seems to be headquartered in San Francisco. If you haven't already talked to them, I would suggest getting in touch. If you want to memail me, I'll be glad to give you more specifics about how things work in my metro, which might spark some ideas for you.
posted by kovacs at 6:37 PM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I reached out to Taproot and my application is under way for a Pro Bono Web Developer (I have enough experience to qualify for that role and other roles may suggest themselves as I work on this). My finances won't hold that unpaid position forever but it's likely it will allow me networking opportunities and possibly lead to job opportunities, so it seems like a good effort, and I do like to do pro bono work when I can.

Also the Taproot recruiter pointed me to Taproot+, which is a more freeform project-to-volunteer matching with fewer closely defined roles.

Still I would love more pointers to other resources if they're to be had. Thank you very much to everyone so far for their proffered ideas. Lots of good information here!
posted by kalessin at 9:44 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Review what kinds of non-profits you would like to work for, what they must have (start by doing a credit check), and what your salary floor is. Look for roles but also call for informational interviews about the organisation.
posted by parmanparman at 11:52 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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