After working for a business publishing company for 26 years, Howard Sharman made the switch to the not-for-profit sector as an Eastside Primetimers member-consultant. He shares his experience with us, from making the sector transition to becoming one of EP’s regular consultants.
How did you first get involved with Eastside Primetimers?
I was recommended to contact Primetimers (as it was then) by a Third Sector specialist and then attended one of the evening sessions they ran for people thinking of transitioning to the sector. After an interesting evening and a one-to-one, I was told that there was nothing Primetimers could do to help me – this was because I had, at the time, a strong interest in working in the international development field and he had only very rare assignments in that area. But Primetimers, later EP, kept in touch with me from time to time, and began to offer small pieces of UK-based work which I was delighted to accept.
How much of a career change was it for you?
Massive. Both working as a freelance consultant and in a new, surprisingly different, sector.
What do you find most rewarding about your involvement and work with EP?
I love dealing with a wide range of charity sectors and with different charities and their problems. The variety is terrific. The people are also (generally) good to work with and committed to what they do and the beneficiaries that they work for. On a good project, where the client is fully engaged, it feels that you are making a real difference.
Can you tell us about one of the assignments you have enjoyed most and why?
One of the problems with consultancy work is that you aren’t always there to see the results of the work that you do. Meetings are held, reports are produced, recommendations are made, but then you have to walk away. So, an assignment that I enjoyed a lot was to find a home within a larger charity for a small criminal justice charity that did excellent work, but its founder and chief executive wanted to step back and the charity was in danger of running out of money. In less than six months we identified a number of potential partners and saw through a merger that enabled the charity (and all of its then employees) to carry on doing their valuable work within a larger organisation.
What has been your most challenging assignment and why?
Probably my most challenging assignment was with a start-up charity in the education sector. This was challenging because: it was a start-up and behaved like most start-ups in that it was constantly changing, or considering changing, direction and focus; primary and secondary education was a new sector to me; the structure of the sector, and Government policy towards it, was also in a state of flux; it involved an advanced use of technology, the understanding of which was at the edge of my techie powers.
Has anything really surprised you about the sector? What differences have you noticed between your previous roles in the corporate sector and the NFP sector?
I think that the thing has surprised me about the sector is the extent to which the ‘atmosphere’ is different to the commercial sector. Knowing, intellectually, that charities are different is one thing, but actually experiencing it really brings home the differences.
The main differences I have seen between the Third Sector and business publishing are that people are: generally nicer; more committed to their causes and less to themselves; less financially literate.
What advice would you give to people new to the sector/ new to EP consulting?
When dealing with people working for charities, hold back and listen for quite a long time before announcing that you know the answers to their problems. “We do things differently here” is an accurate summary of the way things work, and there are many times when ‘doing things differently’ works well. Be respectful of the different culture of charities – different both from each other and, more generally, from the commercial sector.
As far as working for EP is concerned, you should not expect to be earning a lot of money in the short to medium term. You will need to have other sources of income and/or be prepared to work very much part-time and at day rates that are lower than you might have been used to earning in the commercial sector.
Any top tips about consulting generally?
Both when working with clients, and with colleagues on joint projects, communication – regular, accurate and friendly – is critically important. In both cases, bringing along a ‘command and control’ management style is not going to work.
For clients, almost all of the projects that we work on involve them doing work that is over and above an already heavily loaded day job and we have to remember that. That is one of the reasons that the sector moves slowly.
Since 2002, Eastside Primetimers Foundation has given free help and advice to over 1,000 people interested in making a transition to the not for profit sector and/or to a portfolio career through events we have run, partnerships with career management services, one to one meetings and more intensive personal career coaching. Many of these individuals have then joined our unique talent pool of expert charity consultants, helping us support a stronger social sector.
Are you considering making the switch to the not-for-profit sector? Join us at our next information event on July 17th to learn more about how you can get involved in the sector, or contact Hannah Main today for a discussion about how we can support you in your career transition.