Making Moves: Navigating Career Transitions in the Nonprofit Sector with Rob Podlogar

Recently, BSP CEO Trevor Blair went live on LinkedIn with Rob Podlogar, CEO of Candelen for a powerful discussion about career transitions in the nonprofit sector. 

Throughout his career, Rob has made several key transitions from the private sector to the nonprofit sector and within the nonprofit sector itself. 

From corporate banking to nonprofit CEO, Rob’s journey has been filled with a number of lessons on making the leap, advocating for yourself during career transitions, and guiding team members within your organization through their own transitions.

About Rob Podlogar

Rob is currently the CEO of Candelen, a nonprofit organization focused on supporting early childhood care providers in Arizona and Nevada. But his career didn’t start in the nonprofit sector. 

In fact, Rob began his career 25 years ago with some of the top names in finance and banking. After a successful career in finance, Rob and his husband decided that it was time for one of them to make a change. It was then that he participated in a board development training program with United Way of Central Ohio and learned more about the nonprofit space and what it meant to be a good steward of donor funds. In this environment, he really felt he could utilize his skills from the financial industry to support the expansion of impactful work in the nonprofit sector.

Following the training, Rob partnered with Al and Barbara Siemer in homelessness prevention work, where he really began to understand the meaning of philanthropy.

“It really gave me that opportunity to understand what it is to be a funder,” Rob said. “To be able to really take the dollars that my donors have earned over their lifetime, and be able to gift it out to these communities around this work.”

Following his work with the Siemer Institute, Rob accepted a role with the Valley of the Sun United Way in Arizona, where his curiosity grew about what it would be like to be on the other side – receiving dollars from donors to do impactful work in the community himself.

About a year ago, Rob was appointed CEO of Candelen. He shares with us some insight about his many career transitions – especially between sectors and from nonprofit funder to nonprofit service provider.

How to Know When it’s Time for a Career Transition

When Rob asked his colleague, Al Siemer, why he was doing the work that he was doing in homelessness prevention, Al replied, “Every person has one soul. And every soul is equal. I want to do what I can to help as many souls as I can.”

This sentiment really stuck with Rob as he pivoted into the nonprofit sector long term.

When we asked him about his ‘oh my gosh am I really going to do this’ moments switching from a very successful banking career to the nonprofit space and then from a big name nonprofit funder to service provider, Rob said: 

“What I realized personally is that I didn’t like the person I was becoming. It was nothing about the company or the people. I just didn’t feel that was the direction I wanted to spend the rest of my career.”

When a career field just feels like it doesn’t fit anymore, Rob shows us that we need to ask ourselves, “Well then, what do I want to do next?”

Tips from Rob on Making a Career Transition

There are a few things we can learn from Rob’s journey from the private sector to the nonprofit sector and from nonprofit funder to service provider.

Confidence is key

First and foremost, believing in yourself and your abilities will take you far amidst a career pivot. Though the nonprofit world is decidedly different from the corporate world, Rob never doubted that he would be able to make the transition. He knew his skills would transfer well, so he took the leap of faith.

He applied for the position he wanted, and went straight to the hiring manager and said “I know I can do this. I’ll take the job!”

While we may not all have the ability to march directly up to the hiring manager directly, becoming your own advocate, and understanding how your developed skills and abilities from your past career fit into a new industry means that you can step into a new career world with confidence that you are capable of accomplishing all that you want to. 

Follow what makes you happy

When Rob is hiring for roles within his organization he recognizes that applicants and new hires are not just employees, they are human beings. And that applies from the C Suite to front line staff.

That means when employees from within his organization are looking for their own transitions, he supports them. He tells them that it’s okay for them to move on to something else, if it’s the right time for them.

“I can’t express enough how important it is for people to be happy. And sometimes it’s better to go on and try something else. I did. So why can’t others?” Rob said.”I don’t take any of it as a negative. I don’t take any of it personally.”

Sometimes we know that it’s time for us to try something new and that’s okay. As long as we help navigate the transition in our current organization, following the career path that is right for us is always a win.

Keep moving forward

The nonprofit sector is incredibly relational. The sector is full of close ties and strong relationships. That means that it’s common, and inevitable, that employees will move, shift, and grow across organizations. 

Being in such an interconnected sector, it’s very possible that an employee might go work for one of your organizational partners or even a funder. When that happens, it doesn’t mean that they won’t come back to you someday with much more experience under their belt, either directly or indirectly. Ultimately, it benefits you.

As a hiring manager, you don’t want to hold too closely if it’s the natural time for your employee to fly the nest. As an individual, you also don’t want to limit your career growth and opportunity by staying too long in a position that you’ve outgrown. Know when it’s time to go!

Every career move is a chance to grow. Don’t limit yourself or your employees.

From the Private to Nonprofit Sector, and Vice Versa

It’s very common for people to want to transition from working for a service provider to working for a funding organization. Rob did the opposite. When we asked him what his biggest “aha” moment was during this transition, he shared that understanding the complexities of the new environment you are entering is critical.

Giving yourself time to be able to foresee the year ahead, to fully comprehend the new environment you’re in will help you be successful. By taking the time to immerse yourself in your new world you will be able to set manageable expectations, better lead your team, and ensure that you’re as successful as possible in your new role.

What’s Next

We’re so grateful to Rob for taking the time to share his experience with us!

Next up in our LinkedIn Live series we will be chatting with Tamika Franklin, Senior Director of Southern California Major Gifts for UC Berkeley about creating high-performing fundraising teams on July 22nd. 

Until then, visit us at the Blair Search Partners website, or contact us if you’re interested in working together.

You can also follow along in our newsletter here!