C.J. Berman thought he was stuck in non-profit fundraiser jobs, but a new resume proved his sales chops.
By Kevin Fogarty
It's not uncommon for job seekers to talk about leaving the business world to work for nonprofits or charities. Jobs like that might pay less, but the trading the for-profit rat race for work that contributes to your karmic bottom line and is (presumably) more stable than the hypercompetitive corporate world, might be worth it.
Not always, according to C.J. Berman, who lives in northern New Jersey and has had six jobs in the last 14 years as a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations building research funds for everything from AIDS to skin cancer.
Some nonprofit jobs can be long term and stable. Nevertheless, organizations that exist by raising money to give it away - and hence are judged by how little they can spend on their own administration and upkeep -- aren't exactly offering tenure.
A study released in February by TACS, an organization that supports nonprofits, showed that only 30 percent of respondents at nonprofits fear for their jobs this year. Most of those responding were executives and managers, however, not front-line fund raisers - a job whose security tends to rely much more on movements in the economy and specific campaigns being run by specific charities, Berman said.
It does feel good at the end of a day to know you've been working to fund community organizations or healthcare outreach or medical research, said Berman, who got his master's degree in social work in 1995 and planned to become a therapist before being attracted into the operation of human-services organizations.
"I realized I was pretty good at fund raising and organizing events, and enjoyed it. You can really make a difference once you've been someplace for a little while," Berman said.
The problem is that opportunities for professional advancement tend to be few, and roles to play are far more limited than at corporations.
Berman's ambition to move beyond fundraising and into a marketing role - he's finishing up a master's degree in integrated marketing - was frustrated partially by the relative lack of online/real-world marketing activity among the non-profits for which he's worked.
"I want to learn the cutting-edge science in marketing," he said. "I was looking for ways to apply integrated marketing, particularly in the digital space and figure out how to make sales."
It was frustrated further by the recent decision of his current employer, The American Skin Association, to downsize because of pressures in the economy. He got two months' notice that his job would be among those cut.
Dislodging yourself from your career
Not surprisingly, jobs in fundraising are hard to find in a down economy. It's even trickier if you're trying to grow into a more responsible position or make the leap into a corporate job.
"I thought I could continue on the nonprofit fundraising track, but I was having trouble finding ways to apply my interest in integrated marketing," Berman said. "I thought people in corporations wouldn't take me seriously because I didn't have marketing experience. The question was ‘how can I explain that I do a lot of marketing even though I don't work in a marketing department?'
"It felt a lot like I was stuck in nonprofits because nothing I had done seemed relevant to someone in a corporation," he said.
Not so, according to Rosemarie Ginsberg, a certified professional resume writer who works with TheLadders. Ginsberg said Berman didn't realize how directly applicable his proven skills are or how to explain them to someone who didn't live and breathe nonprofit.
"What he was doing as a fundraiser was the same thing a salesperson does: building relationships and organizing events and bringing in money," Ginsberg said. "They had goals to hit and prospects to call and campaigns. It may be indirect selling, but you're getting money from people in one form or another, and the ability to put those things together is easily transferrable to the for-profit sector."
In many ways, fundraising is harder than sales because what you're selling completely lacks the hard-ROI data CFOs often demand for any capital expense, Ginsberg said.
"There is a benefit you sell," Berman said. "It's mostly psychological: 'Wouldn't it be great if you could help cure skin cancer?' "
"If I had my choice, I'd rather go out and sell the widget," Ginsberg said. "Fundraising is an extremely challenging role. If he can do that successfully for someone in nonprofit, why can't he do it for a for-profit organization?"
Translating a non-profit resume to sales
Berman and Ginsberg went over his resume and qualifications both via e-mail and phone, breaking down the responsibilities of each job and each skill set to identify those that would be transferrable to a corporate role and translate them into language easily recognizable and attractive to corporate recruiters or hiring managers.
"Anybody can say, 'I sold more than the three other people in the department,' but can you quantify it and then tell me how you did that?" Ginsberg asked. "Was it your relationship-building skills? Was it your product knowledge? You have to get clients talking about what they do and what made them better at it than someone else. "
Berman's previous resume, for example, didn't use the same kind of language to describe fund raising that a corporation would to describe sales.
"We wouldn't use the word 'quota,' but I could say we surpassed our goal by X percent and reached out to this many people, and here's how we structured our campaign," Berman said. "I had been trying to give specifics in a way that wouldn't alienate prospective nonprofits, but it just wasn't translating."
"Going through the process really boosted my confidence. [Rosemarie] made me think about my experiences in a much broader way," Berman said. "I'm more able to present things I would have thought of in a more narrow way as being more generally applicable. Rosemarie kept telling me, 'Don't present yourself just as a nonprofit professional; present yourself as a person with certain transferrable skill sets.'"
For example, in addition to cold-calling prospective donors and selling them on the publicity and psychological benefits of making contributions, Berman was the primary or secondary organizer and marketer for fundraising events designed to raise money both from sponsorships sold ahead of time and donations made on site.
"[Ginsberg] reminded me that corporations run those sorts of events as well," Berman said. "They could be trade shows or events for prospective customers - either way, if you can run an effective event, you can run it for a different employer."
"People don't always recognize their own value or the contribution they make to their employers," Ginsberg said. "They think they know what their skills are but don't always understand the value of those skills in terms of how they improve the bottom line or the value they bring to the company."
"It wasn't easy," Berman said. "She made me work really hard in terms of thinking about what I do and how I had all the tools I would need. I'm applying for both nonprofits and corporate roles, and I may not want to go corporate. I feel like I can if I get the opportunity in that direction."
"He was definitely not one of my easier clients," Ginsberg said. "Nonprofit is completely different from corporate. He wasn't your standard software-sales guy; you could almost write that person's resume without too much input from them, it's almost that standard. With C.J., it was a lot of pulling out of him things that could be transferrable."
Kevin Fogarty is a general assignment reporter for TheLadders.