Chris Baker. Director, Fund Development & Social Finance. Immigrant Access Fund Canada

Salary, and the ‘passion discount’, is often one of the biggest factors that discourages professionals from pursuing careers in the nonprofit sector. This is particularly true for professionals considering switching into nonprofit from the corporate sector. Chris Baker, one such career switcher, talks the real truth about salary and the pursuit of making a difference. As a Purple Sheep, he believes that success is not just defined by the salary you earn, but the difference you make.

When did you know you wanted to work in nonprofit?

About 10 years into my career in the corporate world, I started to feel that the skills I was gaining could provide real value to different organizations. Around the same time I began to think about what I wanted to achieve in all the hours I spent working. That line of thinking led me to nonprofit. Essentially, it was the realization that I wanted to make a difference.

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

I didn’t have a network in nonprofit at all, so I responded to job postings until I found an entry point. It took about 4 months and an open mind about salary and position (in both of which I took a step back). My background is in marketing/communications which led to my first role bringing a $60 million fundraising campaign to market at George Brown College Foundation. I got lucky and worked with some great people there. Once I started working closely with individual and corporate donors, I was blown away by the generosity and commitment they have to causes they care about.

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

My current role is to help Canada’s immigrants secure employment in their field by building the capacity of Immigrant Access Fund, an organization which provides micro loans for training and accreditation. It’s a fulfilling role at a truly amazing organization. I’m at the crossroads of business and charity, securing both philanthropic and investment partnerships. Management and communications skills honed during my corporate years have come in quite handy, but the ability to have patience and work every day towards the larger strategic picture has been what I’ve found most useful.

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

I’d say both the lack of resources and uncertainty in funding inherent in the nonprofit world are both challenging to deal with. It’s tough to attract and retain great people, for example, if you’re hiring on a one-year contract because funding is only secured for that long.

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

I’d recommend that you start your career under a respected President/Executive Director. The nonprofit field (fundraising especially) is not as strictly defined by methodologies and best practices as other industries are, so working with an experienced leader to teach you the ropes is the best way to learn.

Also – I’d recommend that you do it! I haven’t come across anyone yet who’s regretted the leap. Yes, the change typically comes along with a forfeiture in salary. But it’s true what they say, after a few months you get accustomed to it.

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

The nonprofit field is made up of wonderful people who are very passionate about their particular causes. But they need to be supported by people with business and management skills – it’s a critical gap in the market right now and can make all the difference to an organization. We need you!

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