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5 Reasons Nonprofit Workers Can Succeed At Startups

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Posted by Samantha Fryberger

Leah RoushWith more than a decade of nonprofit experience under my belt, I've done it all. I've organized rallies, flash mobs, car shows, wine tastings, craft bazaars, bus tours and expositions. I've also recruited volunteers, solicited sponsorships, raised funds, designed collateral, dressed in ridiculous costumes, dealt with the aftermath of having a journalist throw up in my car and even humiliated myself on YouTube. Why? Because limited budgets be damned, there are always creative ways to rally for a cause.


I am by no means alone. There's a virtual LinkedIn army of innovators connected to my profile who make the magic happen for cause-related organizations every day. In my current job at JumpStart I hear about the talent demands young tech companies have—the type of skills, smarts and commitment they’re trying to recruit—and often think they should consider tapping into this pool of experienced nonprofit professionals. I floated this by a former co-worker who has nonprofit and startup experience. "Nonprofits and startups are all about impact," agreed Leah Yomtovian Roush, a former JumpStart employee who is now Senior Manager of Strategic Development at eFuneral, a Cleveland-based startup that has developed a comprehensive online resource for end-of-life planning. "Both aim to solve major problems and both are poised to succeed because of their nimbleness, willingness to learn/measure/change and über passionate teams."


Here are a few other reasons I think my nonprofit comrades could add value to any quickly growing enterprise:


Nonprofit employees are a dedicated bunch.

Startups often launch with just a handful of employees who wear many hats and put in long hours. At a nonprofit, while you definitely have specialized expertise, you're also often forced to develop skills because of tight deadlines and small budgets. This also dictates an "other duties as assigned" clause in nonprofit job descriptions, so nonprofit veterans are used to doing everything from directing traffic to developing a strategic plan. For us, pitching in as a team to realize the endgame is the expectation from day one. Sound familiar? When an early stage company is racing to get to market, and its core team is involved in aspects of fundraising, market research and product development—who better to help pull it all off than a willing, skilled generalist?


Seasoned nonprofit employees don't expect huge salaries.

Sure, everyone would like to make decent green, but nonprofits are accountable to funders and generally don't offer for-profit pay. Young companies with limited resources could benefit from seasoned talent who is used to doing more work than they're compensated for. A respectable salary that could pay off if the entrepreneurial venture takes off could be an appealing gamble for an experienced nonprofit employee.


Nonprofits can do a little with a lot.

Faced with limited budgets and accountability to donors and funders, nonprofit workers learn how to stretch a buck. Developing key partnerships and maximizing grassroots marketing efforts (including social media) are just a few of the ways nonprofits work around tight purse strings. "Both nonprofits and startups have to overcome the challenges associated with scarce resources," says Leah. "To some extent, whether working for a nonprofit or startup, you're always fundraising." Budget-conscious startups who don’t want to burn through their early investor capital can benefit from cost-conscious staffers who know there are creative (and cheaper) ways to make things happen.


Pivots don't scare nonprofits.

Startups truly move at the speed of business. The successful ones work quickly, efficiently and intelligently to discover and own their niche. In the course of that journey, what the company thought was the path can change—sometimes dramatically. In the case of nonprofits, the same thing is increasingly also true. Funding for a program or cause may be cut off and replaced with a new partner with different goals, or changes in the community may necessitate a shift in focus or direction. Because nonprofit workers are nimble, they're able to roll—and evolve—with these changes.


Nonprofit employees enjoy doing something they believe in.

With long hours and limited resources, what's the draw for an "A" player to work for a nonprofit? These are people who are powered by passion for what they do. That's not unlike the incredible talent drawn to startups who find getting behind a fledgling company that could make a difference and grow to be the "next big thing" similarly motivating.


Whether digging in to grow a startup or fulfill the mission of a nonprofit, the hard work can be personally rewarding. "What I liked most about working at a nonprofit and what I like most about my role at eFuneral are the growth opportunities," Leah offers. "At nonprofits and startups alike you multi-task big time, learn new skills, and gain experiences that you'd otherwise have to wait years to achieve. For instance, I started at eFuneral in a business and strategic partnership development role, but over the past year have added marketing management to my list of responsibilities. My learning curve has exponentially increased, and as a result, so has my impact."


Sam Fryberger is the live music-loving, vegetarian Director of Communications at JumpStart. Her background includes advertising, public relations and social media and she has been promoting organizations, events and economic development in Northeast Ohio for more than 15 years.


Categories: Thoughts-on-Top-Talent
Tags: talentstartupsworking at a startup

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