Tips for Your Transition to the Charitable Sector

Siobhan Aspinall

By Siobhan Aspinall

So you want to jump the fence from corporate refugee to the charitable sector? Read on for an insider’s advice.

Think about your motivation

It takes passion, but don’t stop there. We’re in a competitive sector with high standards that can be very fast-paced. You’ll often be faced with business-like expectations paired with non-profit-level resources. Employers will ask about your passion for their specific cause but will ultimately hire based on the skills you bring. Be ready to talk about both elements as it usually comes up in the first phone screening.

Revise your resume, cover letter & LinkedIn profile

A generic resume won’t cut it. Find the transferable skills and highlight them in charity sector-specific wording. For example, your sales experience could translate into building donor relationships and closing gifts. Your telemarketing experience could be applied to working with a confidential help line.

Above all, spell it out in your cover letter. Don’t let the employer try to guess which skills match the job description.

And a word about LinkedIn – if you don’t have a profile, now’s the time. A lack of professional presence online makes it harder for people to decide whether to short-list you for a position. At worst, it implies that you are not computer literate. Make sure there is a professional looking head shot and title, and that you have recent and relevant positions listed.

Network strategically

Check and local charity associations, like the Association of Fundraising Professionals. There’s no need to pay membership fees yet – just sign up to attend select events and have a business card ready to hand out.

Explore informational interviews too, but be selective. Connect with organizations that you’d actually want to work for, avoid any that are currently hiring, and be respectful of people’s time if you get a meeting (30 minutes is plenty).

Prepare to start at the bottom

You can move fast in this sector, especially if you have work experience, management skills, etc. But like every sector, employers are typically going to pick the person with direct experience over someone with none. Start your search on sites like or Phil’s Careers for job titles like “administrative assistant” and “coordinator.”

Don’t panic – it’ll take time

If you interview well and have transferable skills to back up your personal passion it can still take six months or more to land an entry-level job in a good market. Be patient, keep networking and good luck!

Siobhan Aspinall, CFRE has been fundraising for over 15 years for non-profit organizations including Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, the Canadian Cancer Society, the David Suzuki Foundation and United Way. She teaches two fundraising courses at BCIT, consults, and is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She holds a BA in languages from UBC and an Associate Certificate in Fundraising Management from BCIT. She obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive designation in 2013. In her spare time, she writes for her fundraising blog and surfs in Tofino.

Siobhan Aspinall
Sand Dollar Consulting

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