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Jennifer Starr. Director, Partnerships. Free the Children

It’s no secret that we love meeting fellow Purple Sheep. Although we’d argue that you’re always a Purple Sheep at heart, some show their colour early in their careers and others after years of experience. Jennifer Starr is a career switcher and recently transitioned from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector as the Director, Partnerships at Free the Children. Read on to hear her story.

When did you know you wanted to work in nonprofit?

Over the last few years I’ve known that I wanted to make a difference in the world in a bigger way. I started getting more involved in my community, hosting fundraisers, actively volunteering and sitting on a number of non-profit committees. This really evolved into a realization that giving back and making a difference was one of my passions, and I realized that I wanted a position that was more meaningful to me personally. As I began reflecting on where I would go in the next phase of my career, I knew I wanted to work for a social enterprise, and set out to learn more about the industry and to find organizations I felt connected to.

How did you get your first nonprofit job and was it a hard transition?

The process was actually relatively quick for me. I started by setting up introductory meetings with a few different people in the industry get advice on how to make the transition. From there, I really looked for an organization that inspired me and that felt aligned with my core values. Free the Children/Me to We is an organization that I have always been familiar with because of the work they do both domestically and internationally, but I had never looked at them with the lens of a prospective employer. As soon as I did they very quickly moved to the top of my list. I sent an email introducing myself to one of their executives, and was brought right in for a series of interviews with stakeholders in the organization. It was very quickly followed up with an offer for a new role they had created for me. I was very aligned to the direction of the organization and was excited to accept this opportunity.   

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for your current job?

I spent the last twelve years working in the human resources outsourcing industry in progressive leadership roles focused on client relationship, strategy and growth positions. Most recently I was responsible for leading and coaching a Sales Consulting team, managing corporate partnerships, and executing our strategic plan.

All of this experience directly translates to the work I am now doing in my current role where I am responsible for leading our global partnerships team. I have my hand in sales, account management, and strategy development & execution. One of my passions is leading and mentoring a team, and this is a huge component of my role.

I’ve always had a very business oriented mindset but also passion for social change. Together this serves me incredibly well in this role.

What’s the most challenging thing about switching from the corporate world to the nonprofit sector?

I was surprised by how welcomed entrepreneurial spirit is here. The organization really values people with these skills, particularly as we continue to build out more frameworks to help us scale as we grow. I’ve also learned to appreciate the small steps, and celebrate success along the way. It’s not all about making big changes.  The other really pleasant surprise is how many positive and like-minded people I am surrounded by, and the amazing culture that the organization possesses. It truly is fun and rewarding to come to work, and the best organizational culture that I have worked in. 

What advice would you give to a job seeker looking to transition from for profit to nonprofit?

Find your passion!! It’s important to really know what causes you are passionate about, and to hone in your job search to organizations that is doing work in that space. 

Once you get started, be really crystal clear in the value that you bring to the organization and how you can help them – be able to translate your skills into the language of the industry.

Get connected! Seek out information interviews from professionals already in the field, or who have successfully transitioned to the non-profit space themselves. They can help you uncover potential opportunities in and give you really helpful guidance to navigate the industry.

Anything else you want to add about career transitioning that we didn’t ask you?

Working for a non-profit is a different experience, and an amazingly rewarding one, particularly at Free the Children/Me to We. There are no other workplaces where you will find such passionate people who want to make a difference and change the world! It truly is an incredible place to be. I would be happy to be contacted to share my story and advice for anyone looking to learn more about Free the Children/Me to We or the non-profit industry in general.

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