Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For-Profit Boomers, Think Twice Before Leading a Non-Profit

If you've been reading my posts for a while then you've probably realized that I link to and comment on a lot of stuff on leadership from the for-profit community. Later this month I'll be celebrating my three-year anniversary as the Executive Director of a stand-alone trade association, and before that I spent thirteen years working for a variety of professional societies as part of an association management company. These experiences have created an interest in me about the interplay between for-profit and non-profit sensibilities in the association world.

I've also blogged a few times about the switch some for-profit Boomers are making to leadership positions in the non-profit community. Whether it's in response to them being downsized in the bad economy or to help them better fulfill their dreams in their last years before retirement, a whole cottage industry seems to be developing to help them make this transition to a new, encore career.

So I couldn't help but laugh at this advice for Boomers that are thinking of making the switch, coming from Wayne Luke at the Harvard Business Blog. He entreats Boomers to ask themselves three questions before taking the plunge. The first question in my favorite:

Why do you really want to make this move? Switching sectors is a big deal. It's a bit like Alice in the looking glass, in that it's often difficult to climb back through once you've started the journey. So you need to be crystal clear about your reasons for doing so. In the current economy, for instance, it might be easy to see a move to the nonprofit sector as a way to expand your job-search options — another "port in the storm" so to speak. Don't do it. Trying to be something you're fundamentally not, solely for the purpose of cash flow, is a choice you'll live to regret — particularly when you have to work with comparatively scarce resources, practice more collaborative decision making, and strive to align mission and action.

Hmmm. Scarce resources, collaborative decision making, and striving to align mission and action. These are certainly hallmarks of the association world I'm familiar with, but is Wayne trying to suggest that these things DON'T exist in the for-profit universe? Go ask some of my members what they think of that.


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