Guest Articles

January 19

Kimberly Hendler

The Leap from Social Sector to Social Enterprise

I’ve always known I wanted to make a difference in the world through my career, so the NGO sector seemed to be the natural place for me. However, after 10 years in a variety of nonprofit organizations, I tired of the pressures of fundraising and decided to try social enterprise.

While I initially thought that a role in impact investing was my next destination, that proved unrealistic for me, especially considering my past experience didn’t include any financial analysis or investment experience. Instead, I focused on using the skills I had cultivated in marketing, leadership, recruiting and fundraising from the nonprofit sector. Today I have the privilege of helping other professionals make the transition into social enterprise through Impact Business Leaders.

My story is not unique. Almost every day, I engage with professionals who are hoping to land a new type of job in a completely new discipline, region or sector. However, in IBL’s experience, you’re likely to be most successful at landing a job if you aim for roles that leverage your strengths and then seek ways to pivot into new areas of responsibility.

As IBL’s Executive Director and Founder David Kyle, advises, “when you are switching industries … generally companies want you because of your best, current skills, not the future ones you hope to acquire as your work life goes on.”

If your experience to date is in the development, government or NGO sectors, there are three common paths to careers in social enterprise or impact investing:


Three Paths to a Career in Social Business

1) Seeking a new job within the same function

Regardless of sector, most companies hire for similar functions: financial management, human resources, marketing, sales/business development, external relations, IT, etc. If you have specialized in one of these functions in the NGO sector, seek similar roles in social enterprises. Several of IBL’s participants (and myself) have followed this route, using past experience in financial management or recruiting in nonprofits to land similar roles in social enterprises, for example.

In cover letters and interviews, articulate how your skills and past experience can be applied in this new context with a focus on how you will serve the business’s bottom line.


2) Leveraging expertise on an issue area

A second approach is to leverage issue expertise from your social sector work. In the case of one IBL participant, prior experience in education and teaching made him an attractive hire to an impact investor seeking to build a portfolio of education-related start-ups.

To pursue this strategy, get to know the segment of social enterprises, investors and ecosystem organizations where your knowledge will be most valued and focus your job hunt and networking on these companies.


3) Bringing regional expertise

If you have experience working in specific regions and languages, seek companies and investors who will value your knowledge and networks. For example, there may be investors or companies expanding to a region where you have worked, where your family comes from, or where you have lived in the past. Position yourself as an expert on that region and market your experience (and any relevant language skills) accordingly.

Some of you might have experience that places you on more than one of these paths. If that’s the case, just be sure to adjust your approach depending on the job or company you are targeting.


Being ‘Business Minded’

For those coming from the NGO, development or government sectors, you likely will encounter the stereotype that you are not “business minded.” To overcome this, you must communicate through your words and experience that you understand and can support a company to increase revenue and profitability, in addition to helping it make an impact.

Depending on your specific situation, there are a few ways to do this:

  • Present your past experience with a focus on how you generated revenue, or minimized costs while maximizing impact. Consider the words you use on your CV and in interviews and use business terms (e.g. customers, markets, products, return on investment, revenue, margins, etc.) rather than social sector terms (e.g. clients, services, programs, partnerships, funding allocation, etc.).
  • Build additional business and financial management experience through short-term projects/internships with a company or via additional, skill-building responsibilities in your current role.


Have you made the transition from the social sector to social enterprise? Share your tips below.


Kimberly Hendler consults with Impact Business Leaders on recruitment and revenue generation.


Image credit: Vishal Patel via Flickr.

Social Enterprise
employment, skill development, social enterprise