Transforming a non-profit professional experience into a CSR one

As we mentioned in the last blog post, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a big job relocation. We have given some tips on how to adapt to a new job position in CSR, but hearing from those who experienced it themselves is the best way to learn. 

During an interview with Jerome Tennille for our next podcast episode, he talked about how he adapted his previous work experience to his CSR role, as well as how his experience in the nonprofit world was a game-changer in this journey. 

Check here some of the things he learned along the way and see how you can adapt his tips to your own reality:

Optimy: How did you come across corporate social responsibility, and how did your journey start? 

Jerome: I have about nine years in the social good space. And when I say social good, that’s volunteer engagement jumped up at giving and sustainability. For the last three years, I’ve been working in corporate responsibility, specifically in the travel and hospitality industry. Before that, I worked in a nonprofit sector for six years and managed the National Volunteer Program for a nonprofit organization in the United States. If you were to talk to a version of me ten years ago, that was the profession that I’m in now that I would seek to do for the foreseeable future, for the rest of my life. That was never a career path that I intended to get on to. I served in the military for almost eight years before going into the nonprofit sector. And I think like many people who get into my line of work, I stumbled upon the nonprofit sector and volunteer engagement specifically by accident. You know, I was a duty-driven person having served in the military. And when I was transitioning out of the military, I wanted to do something to give back to the military community and also my country. But in a very different way. I was able to secure a spot as a volunteer coordinator at a national nonprofit organization, and I fell in love with it. And I think that was a big part of my being duty-driven. 

Optimy: And how was this transition? 

Jerome: It was difficult in one sense but easy in another. What I mean by that is that the military is incredibly structured. There is a really strict hierarchy that exists. There’s a lot of organization, and there is a very strict chain of command and how you operate, who you report to, and how you work with others. The nonprofit sector is not as structured. It’s a system in which you can get lost and creativity, and you can have a lot of latitudes to move around and to have a lot of overlap outside of the specific role that you play. 

Trying to move from the military culture to something that had less structure, that was a challenge for me because I had always had that structure for about eight years. The part that made it easy were the skills that I had developed in the military, for example, project management through the time that I served in the military. I understood project management because as a profession, that’s where project management came to life, especially here in the United States, is project management skills. 

They were rooted in the military hierarchy and how to conduct, highly accurate and precision military operations and to do it in time and with precision and accuracy. I also had public speaking skills and as a result of the job that I did in the military service. I probably gave over a thousand highly articulate PowerPoint presentations to military leadership. 

And so that was a skill that was automatically transferable when communicating the mission of the nonprofit organization that I supported to stakeholders internally and externally. And I also had relationship-building skills, which was incredibly important in volunteer coordination. Because of the work that I did in the military, I worked to build relationships within the private sector and also within the government apparatus and with foreign nationals. And that helped me in terms of my ability to build relationships for the sake of being able to do my work: engaging volunteers. 

Those three things, I think, really set me up for success as I was navigating through this new culture in this new space. I’m incredibly grateful for having I have learned those skills through the military service because there is a direct translation there. 

Stay tuned on our podcast to listen to our interview with Jerome Tennille.

Optimy: What were the changes that you saw moving from the nonprofit to the corporate social responsibility side of things? 

Jerome: It’s a complete culture change in how people function, the language that they speak. And I also think some of the values that exist or how they prioritize certain values.

I deliberately sought to get into corporate responsibility because as a nonprofit professional, I noticed a massive divide between companies and the communities and the organizations that they sought to serve. They just seemed to be a disconnect. I think especially here in the United States, there is a disconnect between companies and how they seek to serve. Whether or not they’re really addressing the deep-rooted, critical issues that communities face. And I knew that I could not change that from the outside as a nonprofit professional. I wanted to be a part of that change, but from within the corporate and for-profit space. 

I think for me, what I brought was a different lens, and I brought a different perspective. What I had to do was to learn the language and also learn the values, priorities, and all the objectives when you are working for our company, because they’re slightly different. I would say that the job that I did in the nonprofit sector was identical to the work that I do in corporate responsibility, but you’re navigating a different labyrinth. 

Optimy: Does it often happen that people in the US move from nonprofit to CSR? 

 Jerome: It’s happening more often now, but I would say traditionally that wasn’t always the case. That shift probably happened or started happening about five to 10 years ago. I think what I’ve seen here is that the corporate responsibility space is very small, is very close-knit. The opportunities are far and few in between. You don’t see job postings for corporate responsibility or sustainability jobs very often. 

Traditionally, when companies have sought to hire corporate responsibility professionals, they’ve actually hired people with traditional business acumen. They would generally hire internally people who had a long tenure with the companies in human resources, marketing, public affairs, communications, traditional business roles. 

Over the years, companies have become more sophisticated and advanced and more knowledgeable about serving the community’s needs. Companies have transitioned to looking for a more diverse skillset that oftentimes is born in the community from people with backgrounds in nonprofit partnership building, sustainability, volunteer engagement. 

As we get through 2020 and we start getting into 2021 and beyond, we’re going to see more companies hire subject matter experts who are experts in serving the community first and then figuring out how that wraps into the business functions. 

I think more companies are moving from what used to be considered philanthropy or community relations or community service, which, in my opinion, it’s a very antiquated way to think about serving the community’s needs. As companies are becoming more sophisticated, they’re moving to corporate citizenship or corporate responsibility, and social impact, which is a more progressive way of thinking about serving the community. 


Do you also have tips on how to transition from the nonprofit sector to CSR? Share your tips in our CSR community here.