Transitioning to the Nonprofit Sector at Midlife

By: Guest Author

Published: July 12, 2018

Contributed by Brooke Faulkner- Guest Contributor

Everyone dreams of having a career they are passionate about, but oftentimes, reality and survival can push you away from those dreams. When you’re young, you want to do something to change the world, or at least do something that you love, but sometimes you have to trade that in for a higher income job. As you grow older and get more experience, you move up in your career. This helps you gain more and more stability in your life, which allows you the freedom to pursue your passion.

 Though it is a wonderful opportunity, changing your career at midlife can be difficult. Competing with recent college graduates and starting over in a new field is intimidating, but when you know you want to make a change, you should take the reins of life in your hands and head in the direction you want to go.

Finding a New Direction

Making a transition in your career at midlife can be caused by many things. Perhaps you feel like you have gotten everything you will get out of your current job, maybe you’re a middle-aged mama and your youngest child just left for college, or you just finally have a chance to pursue the career you are passionate about.

Switching from the private sector to nonprofit is a big change. Though it might – and might not – mean a lower salary, it can often bring workers higher work satisfaction. As making a positive influence in your community becomes more of a possibility, turning that passion into an actual career change is important.

The most important decision to make is choosing a nonprofit to dedicate yourself to. There is no shortage of options to choose from as the poverty in the US increases and many humanitarian crises are developing around the world. It’s more than likely that you already have a cause that you are passionate about, but if you don’t, you can either make a list of the type of work you want to do and match it with a nonprofit that way, or you can search by available opportunities in your community.

Making a Career Change

Strategizing your career plans at midlife is, in many ways, different than choosing a career path in youth. Some employers see an older woman as disadvantaged and harder to train, while others will see an employee with great experience. If you run into the former, remember that age discrimination is against the law and that you are within your rights to take action. However, you can combat this by showing potential employers you are up with the times by using modern resumes and cover letters. You also have many options to choose from when starting out.


Volunteering can be a great way to get into the nonprofit sector. If you aren’t sure exactly what you want to do, you can volunteer in your free time while keeping your current job, or you can volunteer to test the waters out at different nonprofits. Just make sure not to make any commitments that you can’t keep as nonprofits often rely on volunteers to complete their operations.

Volunteering can also be a good option for those facing or in retirement. If you are close to retirement and have great benefits at your current job, you can volunteer in your free time until you retire, and after you can get a full- or part-time job helping others. Volunteering can also be a good opportunity for those who are retired since you can give back to the community on a more flexible schedule and have more time to relax and enjoy the smaller things in life.


If you are making a career change at midlife, you more than likely have worked your way up in your current industry, meaning you have experience. Depending on how drastic of a change you are making, you still might consider going to school and getting a degree related to nonprofit, such as social work. This is ideal for career-changers burnt out on corporate work, and doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start over, but can give you a more confident start on your new path.

Not only can getting another degree better prepare you with the knowledge you need, but it can also work to counteract ageist assumptions. By going back to school, you are showing that you are still willing to grow and improve yourself professionally. You are also showing that you can keep up with the times and use more modern forms of technology than were available when you first went to school.

Foot in the Nonprofit Door

Depending on what your specific goals are, you may also just want to jump right in and find a job with the cause you care about. If this is the case, you can start looking at what is available, though many nonprofits prefer employees who are not only passionate but well-informed and at least somewhat experienced with their cause.

Whether you are changing careers or reshaping your retirement, be prepared for a difficult job search. If you don’t find something immediately or get more than a couple of rejections, contact the nonprofit you want to work for and ask them what you can do to become hirable. Sometimes, that will lead you back to either volunteering or getting further education, but sometimes it might just mean changing up your resume or applying at the right time.

Getting older can help you figure out what you want out of life, and making a career change to help others can help you get that. Preparing and looking for a new job may be different now than it was when you were younger, but finding a job that makes you happy and helps others will be worth it.

Author Bio: Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and animal lover from Portland, Oregon. 

The views expressed herein this article, written by a guest contributor, do not necessarily represent those of the Red Hot Mamas organization. The content is for informational purposes and should not substitute the advice of your doctor.