How to Manage the Career Transition from Non-Profit to Corporate

non profit to corporate

Many people envision a life working for a non-profit as a leisurely, stress free career path down the long road to eventual retirement. No quarterly earning projections, no mergers and acquisitions, no looming deadlines, no sales quotas, no money hungry executives, no cut throat coworkers, and no travel or overtime.

Most people envision moving from corporate america to the non-profit sector as a step back from work.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.

Why is it that you rarely hear of anyone moving from a non-profit to a corporate career?

Please do not get me wrong, working for a non-profit can be incredibly rewarding. There are many non-profit organizations that treat their employees extremely well, offer a satisfying work environment, and make coming to work every day fun. However, that is not always the case. Many non-profits focus 100% of their efforts on fundraising and quickly lose sight of their mission and vision. There are many instances of non-profit executives pocketing upwards of 80% of the revenue for an organization. A mismanaged non-profit can be just as bad, if not worse, than a mis-managed for profit business.

I have a good friend who is considering making a move from a mismanaged non-profit agency he has worked with for many years, to the corporate world. In talking with him, we both agreed on a few important differences that will need to be considered in making this move.


It’s no secret that higher salaries tend to follow the corporate world, as opposed to the non-profit. However, there are a number of items to evaluate when comparing salary offers between corporate and non-profit.

1. Base Salary – This is straightforward.

2. Bonuses – These generally do not happen in non-profits. They should be considered potential income, and not guaranteed.

3. Health/Dental/Vision Insurance – Many corporate plans have better group rates because they have more participants.

4. Retirement – Many corporations offer a 401(k) match, wheras the 403(b) equivalent at non-profits is utilized much less often. However, many non-profits (which would include state and federal employment) still offer defined pension plans which are a thing of the past for the corporate world.

5. Perks – Gym memberships, company cars, discounted meals, per diem, housing and relocation assistance, free lunch, free or discounted child care are almost exclusively available in the corporate world.

6. Flex Schedules – Many non-profits offer more flexible schedules than would a corporate office. You may have the option to come in early, or stay late at your convenience. Many corporations however, do offer the ability to work remote from your home.

7. Work/Life Balance – Many non-profits excel at this, but certainly not all of them. Maintaining a healthy balance between work and home is crucial to your success. Limiting the number of hours worked, requiring used vacation days, offering paid sick time, offering options for children spouse to interact during the work day are all options.

The Decision

For my friend, the most important decision criteria was the work/life balance and the fringe benefits. The offer he received from a corporate job would pay him a higher salary and he would have the option to work from home. For him, this more than made up for the slightly higher stress level he would feel to meet the corporate objectives and be within a rigid corporate governance.

The Bottom Line

In the end, the most important component to consider is your quality of life. Maybe a lower salary would be more than compensated for with an increase in your work environment. Maybe you could use fewer vacation days if you had free lunch and a free gym membership.

This decision is a very personal one, but one that can have a major impact on your life. It’s not an easy decision but hopefully for you will be a good one!

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10 thoughts on “How to Manage the Career Transition from Non-Profit to Corporate

  1. Matt Becker

    “In the end, the most important component to consider is your quality of life.” Very well said. I don’t think you can definitively say that one type of environment is better than the other. Each individual company will have its own culture and its own strengths and weaknesses and its up to the individual to decide which environment is right for them.
    Matt Becker recently posted..My Personal Investment PlanMy Profile

    1. MoneyforCollegePro Post author

      You are right. The situation will be very different for every person. I think there are some universal criteria to evaluate when making the decision, but every person will have a different rubric for what matters the most to them.

  2. Edward Antrobus

    Of course, corporate and non-profit are just two different types of jobs out there. There are also government, startup, small business, agency, freelance, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Each one is going to have different advantages and disadvantages over the others in the areas you mentioned. There is probably less difference between a large corporation and a large non-profit than there is between a large corporation and a small business.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Introducing my Yakezie Summer 2013 TeamMy Profile

    1. MoneyforCollegePro Post author

      Good point. There are a large number of various job types, each with their own unique set of demands and problems. It is defintely important to understand as much about the company you are transitioning to as possible.

    1. MoneyforCollegePro Post author

      @TTMK – Good point about thinking for the future. A decision this big should definitely focus on the long-term rather than what makes us happy short term. If you leave your job after having a bad day or a fight with a coworker, you may seriously regret it.


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