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How do you decide between earning a lot of money and saving the world?

By Erdin Beshimov

The good news is that business and nonprofit are no longer "either-or" and can even be said to be mutually-enhancing career paths.

First, you don't really need to make a choice between the two - you can do both.  It is becoming fairly common to migrate from the business to the nonprofit world, and vice versa.  Browsing through your school's alumni network you will find many recent graduates who have worked in various business fields and then transitioned to nonprofit work.  Similarly, you will find many graduates who have done just the opposite - volunteered at a nonprofit during summers, worked for a nonprofit full-time after graduation, and later made a successful jump onto the corporate ladder.

The thing is - skill gained at a nonprofit can be quite useful in a business setting, and vice versa.  For example, working in fundraising for nonprofits involves learning the art of making a successful pitch and effectively communicating with donors.  Getting funding for a nonprofit is true salesmanship, and this skill can be successfully transferred to sales, marketing, and advertising.  What is more, nonprofit work often involves a heavy dose of strategic thinking.  Such questions as how to respond to events, how to achieve goals with limited resources, what organizations to partner with, or how to resolve stakeholder disputes are always on the agenda at nonprofits.  The way of thinking about such issues is fairly similar to how managers think in businesses.  

The skills that one hones in business - can-do attitude, drive for tangible results, teamwork, strategic thinking, and even basic accounting - are highly sought-after in the nonprofit world.  There's even a saying that successful nonprofits are nonprofits that are run like businesses.  To be successful, nonprofits need to have able managers who are always drilling for tangible results with efficiency and creativity.  Many successful nonprofits have top-level managers who have worked in businesses and have MBAs from top business schools. 

So in essence, your choice is not whether to work at a nonprofit or join a business.  All you have to do is simply decide what you want to do first.  If you're good at what you do, monitor the developments and constantly network with the other sector, you can always make a successful transition later in your career. 

Finally, there is increasing collaboration between businesses and nonprofits which would allow you to experience both no matter where you begin.  Companies are increasingly conscious of their responsibility to play a leading and exemplary role of global citizenship.  At the same time, nonprofit organizations are stretching out to the international business community to bring its expertise and resources aboard its various missions.  There is a real, tangible sense of emerging collaboration between the two sectors. 

This gives you a much greater degree of flexibility.  For example, the leading investment bank Goldman Sachs runs the Goldman Sachs Foundation which has a public service program.  This program allows Goldman Sachs high-flyers to spend up to a year working for a nonprofit on Goldman Sachs salary.  Similarly, Hewlett Packard, a leading manufacturer of digital equipment, runs a "Science Partners" program whereby HO employee volunteers work in K-12 schools in their local communities.  Science Partners work with teachers to develop relevant and exciting science curricula, provide "distance" technical support to teachers and engage in materials refurbishment.  This stands to show that the modern job market is much less about "either/or" and much more about "when and how" and the "just do it".    


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