Nonprofit Periscope

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Subsector-switching, part III: Tera Wozniak Qualls

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This is the third installation in a series of guests posts on subsector-switching by members of the Nonprofit Millennial Blogging Alliance.  (Catch up on part I here and part II here.) Tera Wozniak Qualls is a nonprofit professional, community member, and the original social citizen in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

What subsectors do you distinguish within the nonprofit community?
The nonprofit community has many subsectors, even within general sectors.  If I had to name the broad sectors I would include: human services, health, education, foundation/philanthropy, arts and culture, environmental, religion, and international.

What subsectors have you worked in so far?  How did you transition between them?
In my career I have worked for both the education and human services subsectors.  While getting my bachelor’s degree I worked for a United Way focused on human services programs.  After college I got offered the opportunity to work for a university nonprofit academic center. I moved to the academic center to exercise my love for working with multiple nonprofit organizations.

Do you consider yourself more strongly drawn toward a specific subsector/cause (such as homelessness and housing issues) or to a specific nonprofit function (such as fundraising, outreach, etc.)?
Although my career has been short I have thought a lot about this question.  So far, I have decided I am more draw to a particular nonprofit function.  Program management allows me to use all my strengths.

Do you want/plan to return to a specific subsector in the future?  Are you doing anything on the side now to keep your knowledge of that subsector fresh?
I sometimes think about returning to human services and would if I found a strong program management opportunity.  Currently I am working on developing my leadership skills and knowledge of the foundation/philanthropy sector.

Do nonprofits lend themselves more easily to this kind of transition among subsectors around than the public or private sectors do?
I actually think it is harder to move among and between subsectors in the nonprofit sector.  Although there are many subsectors that require the same skills, passion for a cause and interest in hiring someone who has knowledge about your cause is typically considered.  Networks in specific sectors also plays a strong role in hiring an individual or moving between sectors.  However, some roles, such as fundraiser are more mobile.

Many students or entry-level professionals interested in nonprofit work are faced with a choice: take a menial job or volunteer position for an organization or cause they care deeply about, or take a more lucrative position in the public or private sector that uses their specific skills (writing, research, advocacy, etc.).  If you were advising someone on a career move in this situation, which would you recommend they do?  Is there another option?
I would recommend taking the position you feel you will be happier in.  If you decide to take a position in the public sector just for the salary you will spend time looking for ways to fuel your need for working in the nonprofit sector and hating the job.  If you are tailored to work in the nonprofit sector, go for it. You will find ways to make extra salary, and there is potential for other benefits outside of salary.  Some might actually mean working less hours during the week, which could provide you the opportunity to work a second job.

What advice do you have for mid-career nonprofiteers who want to try a different subsector?
I would suggest volunteering in a sector you are looking to switch to before switching.  Although the sectors are all considered nonprofit they are all much different and you should be sure about your switch before making one you might regret.  On the other hand, you are young and have a lot of career left.  Making a switch could mean an optimal learning position and an opportunity to possible meet someone or gain a network that will lead you to your dream job.
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Written by eclawson

June 22, 2010 at 8:35 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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  1. […] Tera Wozniak-Qualls talks about subsector-switching. […]


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