Moving Up or Moving Out 

900 500 Gabby Wallin

How do you know when it is the right time to move up or out in the nonprofit community?

This is a fascinating question that everyone should give careful consideration.   

How do you know if you are ready for a promotion? Just like a famous quarterback has his own playbook for football, nonprofit professionals need one that reflects their own career. Looking back over my career, I did have one that considered the range of experience, training, and education I needed. I took my playbook very seriously. I checked off boxes, and I had a timeline. Then, when the time was right, I sought out the opportunities that were compatible with my playbook. But I live by the philosophy that says, “it is not a good idea to turn down a promotion, even if the promotion is not exactly the one that you want.” It will serve as an opportunity to learn something new, excel, and be stretched as a growing professional. To this point, there will be a time to seek out the opportunity that you really want, and this way, you will be better prepared for it. Therefore, take advantage of all of the promotions presented to you. 

Now, the other side of the question, when is it time to retire? This question is the more intriguing one in my eyes because it is encountered regularly in all careers and it can be lifechanging. I have personally retired twice and am working on a third career! 

The first thing to consider is your passion at the time you entered the role you are in. If you get to a point where you are looking around wondering where the passion went and wondering how to get the passion back but just can’t make it happen, it may be a time to consider retirement.  

Another thing to consider during the analysis is if you have achieved a significant goal or reached a position that you strived to achieve for a very long time. This may tell you if it is the right time to retire. You do not want to leave your team at a low point because, as a leader of an organization, your team needs to be on a high when you retire, so that they may flourish upon your exit. Your team should be a primary consideration when you are deciding if it is time to retire.  

I also suggest considering if you are bored by the repetitive activities, bureaucracy, or the politics of your organization. Are you no longer excited to go into work in the morning? If this is the case, and you have considered the prior two elements, it may be time to consider retirement.   

A good exit strategy should be embraced when you are planning to retire. It should be good for the organization, the stakeholders, and you. When I retired from the Air Force after twenty-nine years, these were the factors that I took into consideration. I was bored of the bureaucracy, the politics, and we had just accomplished a major activity for the entire Air Force. It was truly energizing, but when it was over, I was bored. I knew I wanted to explore other avenues and career opportunities. I wanted to leave when everything was in order, and we were at a high point.   

If you’re considering a promotion, I say go for it!  You will gain so much from the change and the challenge. If you’re considering retirement, I would tell you to go for it as well. Don’t be afraid. People shy away from change because it is seen as scary, unknown, risky, untried. There is always something waiting for you out there to capture your interest and passion. You have no idea how exciting this opportunity will be unless you say yes!