Nonprofit Job Search: How to Land a Great Nonprofit Job
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The internet is saturated with great generic advice for job seekers. But what if you’re looking for a job with a nonprofit organization, not a small business, government agency, or corporation? Are the rules the same, or should you search, apply, and prepare differently to land a great nonprofit job?
Most experts tend to agree that while you need similar job search materials regardless of the type of position you’re seeking, the nonprofit sector does have its own workplace culture and set of mores. And this impacts the nonprofit job search process.
Understanding the Nonprofit Sector
If you’re considering a nonprofit job, leave behind your previous expectations and assumptions about the world of work. Working for a nonprofit organization is unlike working in the for-profit world in many ways.
The most significant difference is the focus on mission rather than profit.
Many nonprofit organizations also spend funds in ways for-profit organizations wouldn’t consider. They give away products and services to people who need assistance. But, they are less likely to fork over bonuses, raises, and huge salaries. Nonprofits are structured to keep administrative costs low and to spend funds responsibly.
Nonprofits also raise funds relentlessly. You can’t have shame about fundraising if you work for a nonprofit organization. And nonprofit organizations care more about the long game than short-term gains. They invest in outreach, public relations, donor relations, and community wellness.
These are just a few of the differences between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit world of work. Be sure to research any organization adequately before you interview with them. Learn as much as you can in advance about the mission, the values, the organizational structure, the services provided, and your potential role.
Here are some guaranteed ways to succeed in your nonprofit job search.
Don’t Feel Defeated If You Lack Nonprofit Experience
Do you lack specific nonprofit experience but hope to land a great nonprofit job? It’s definitely a feasible goal. Just because you lack nonprofit work experience does not mean you’re disqualified. Focus on showcasing transferable skills, relevant experiences, and volunteer efforts in the nonprofit world instead of for-profit work experience.
Highlight Your Alignment to the Nonprofit Mission on Your Application Documents
On your job application, your resume, and your cover letter, focus on mission alignment. What experience, skills, and passions do you have which directly align with the nonprofit’s mission? Keep your focus there.
“For the resume, highlight any experience you have that’s relevant to the organization’s mission, such as volunteer work, fundraising, or program management. Be sure to include specific examples of how you have contributed to the success of these initiatives. Use your cover letter to showcase your dedication to the cause and explain how your skills and experience make you a strong candidate for the position,” suggests Beverly Smith, owner of Career Success Strategies.
Additionally, highlight your passionate connection to the nonprofit organization’s mission during all conversations, whether at networking events or during job interviews.
“Usually, someone has a connection with one kind of nonprofit. Focus on a ‘connection’…and tell YOUR story,” urges Ronald Kerns, graphic designer.
Search in the Right Places
While you can search for nonprofit jobs on any major job board, you should also look for postings elsewhere. Check out niche boards, association and organizational websites, and social media. This is because “most nonprofits don’t have adequate funding to use a job board like Linkedin, so they will post roles in niche publications,” notes Bernadette Pawlik, owner of Coffee & Consult.
You may find great jobs posted on job boards like Idealist, which feature only nonprofit jobs.
“Many local communities also have niche nonprofit job boards. For example, the Raleigh-Durham and St. Louis areas each have their own niche sites,” shares executive resume writer Sarah Johnston.
One of the key ways to find great nonprofit jobs which may not be posted online is to volunteer. Your fellow volunteers or nonprofit leaders may share about openings and offer tips for improving your odds.
Focus on Mission and Value While Networking
If you can’t find the type of job you’re looking for posted on niche job boards or websites, consider networking with the Chamber of Commerce.
“Local Chambers of Commerce tend to be well connected to nonprofits and can help provide some direction,” shares Heather Woodward, MHR, job search consultant.
Network with nonprofit organizations both online and offline. If you’re looking for a remote nonprofit job, be sure your social media efforts are targeted, strategic, and mission-oriented.
“Follow the particular organizations on social media and look for ways to add value via specific questions or a piece of insight. I often see people whose networking strategy is simply to comment, ‘I agree.’ These comments do not add value or show that you have anything to bring to the conversation. Take the opportunity to be interested. Interested people become interesting people. Take the opportunity to add value. Those who add value are the most valuable. You can have the nonprofit companies looking for you,” encourages Michael Stinnett, Career Coach.
Ask Pointed Questions During Your Interview
Research the organization, its board of directors, its financial standing, and why your potential role is vacant. Then ask questions during the interview to seek clarification on these matters. Be sure to use tact when inquiring about sensitive matters like finances or reasons employees have moved on.
Sherry Quam Taylor, noted nonprofit consultant, suggests job seekers dig in to discern the true nature of the relationships between board members and current leadership.
“If I were thinking of applying for a job with a nonprofit, I would want to know how day-to-day decisions get made and who is really making them. Day-to-day decisions should be made by the Executive Director. But too often, the dynamic between the board and the leadership isn’t healthy, and growth is stunted because of this basic issue,” advises Quam-Taylor.
Also, remember it’s perfectly acceptable to ask detailed questions about processes in the workplace. This will help you discern who does what and your responsibilities if hired.
“If I were sitting in an interview, I’d want to hear a story about a large and small investment that a staff member has requested and what that decision-making process looked like as well as who really made the final call. This tells a potential employee about how much control they will have when doing their own job,” mentions Quam-Taylor.
Consider How to Feature Your Best Assets During the Interview Process
Rather than rattle off a list of computer programs you can use or a chronological list of your work experiences, focus instead on highlighting your depth of experience and previous levels of expertise and management. If you have managed a budget, a team, or a project, talk about it. Work that leadership experience or subject matter expertise into your responses.
Be sure you don’t make the interview all about yourself. Rather, chat about what you can contribute if hired. What needs do they have? What problems can you solve? How will you add to the team?
In addition, bring the focus back to the mission throughout the interview. Think about how to respond to common interview questions, incorporating your passion, interest, and experience related to fulfilling the nonprofit’s mission. If you don’t have direct work experience related to the organization’s mission and services, expand. Pull examples from volunteer experience or community outreach efforts.
Nonprofit Jobs and Career Fulfillment
Now that you’ve adequately prepared for your nonprofit job search, you can put your skills and strategies to use. Be aware that you may be asked to wear multiple hats when working in the nonprofit sector. And you may earn less money than if you performed the same tasks in the corporate sector.
But don’t forget this either: working for a mission-minded organization, especially a nonprofit whose mission aligns with your own passions and interests, can be the most fulfilling work you’ve ever done.