Tips for Making a Successful Transition to the Non-Profit World

5 years ago

When Jamie Scripps transitioned from a career in corporate legal defense to working for non-profit environmental groups, she learned a lot about the differences and similarities between the two. In this interview, Scripps describes her transition from corporate lawyer to non-profit lobbyist, and shares some advice and inspiration about choosing a career in the non-profit sector.

BlogHer: Can you tell us about the experiences that led to your arrival in the non-profit world?

Jamie Scripps: I took a winding road in terms of my career. You never know where you are going to end up, which is exciting if you’re open to the possibilities. I attended college and got my bachelor’s in education, ended up in the legal profession and then went back to education. Now I’m an academic chair with Kaplan University.

After I finished my undergraduate degree I had decided I didn't want to teach -- I wanted to explore the corporate world. So I went and worked for a marketing company that was affiliated with General Motors. It was a great training ground -- there are lots of great opportunities you can find from being in the corporate world. I went to school in the evening, taking courses in leadership studies. I ended up taking a few law courses, which led to going to law school. I worked in a corporate law firm for years before switching to non-profit work with environmental groups. That led me to Kaplan University as chair of the Department of Public Administration. The interest in education never left me.


What factors are important in making the transition from the corporate arena to the non-profit sector?

Because I have been all over, I was able to keep an open mind. Many people fear that their corporate experience is not enough, but I have found it valuable to have seen it from the other side. The corporate experience is more valuable than you realize; it is really an asset. I had the experience of defending the big companies, so I am able to think like the opposite side and add insight to the discussion. When you focus on what you bring, you are going to be able to apply many of the same skills in the non-profit world that you did in the corporate.

Can you provide more background on the School of Public Administration at Kaplan University? How can the programs in the Department of Public Administration assist someone in transitioning to the non-profit environment?

Our programs provide the nuts and bolts of how government institutions and non-profits work across many areas -- human resources, ethics, budget -- like what you would find in business school, but tailored to the public sector. It's a great program, and the students seem to really love how they can apply what they learn in class to the real world. Students often come in with a cause, and many of them want to start their own non-profit. The programs are definitely meeting a desperate need.

We offer very practical skills, arming people with very practical knowledge of how to meet the range of challenges found in the public sector. Non-profits are businesses too; they still need to operate efficiently. In the public sector, there are some different considerations -- ethical issues, transparency and accountability with information -- and our programs allow you to bridge the gap.

In looking back, do you have any advice for women who are seeking to change their careers from corporate to non-profit? What was the most impactful insight that you gained from the experience?

Some aspects of the corporate world are behind the times. In the non-profit world, I have seen the most empowerment of women in their positions and opportunities for women to rise. There are also great mentors -- I found powerful female mentors in the non-profit world. Don't underestimate the opportunities in non-profit, especially for leadership. My advice is to aim high!


Kaplan University provides a practical, student-centered education that prepares individuals for careers in some of the fastest-growing industries. The University, which has its main campus in Davenport, Iowa, and its headquarters in Chicago, is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission ( It serves more than 53,000 online and campus-based students. The University has 11 campuses in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland and Maine, and Kaplan University Learning Centers in Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and Florida.

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