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8 tips to get a nonprofit job

A career in nonprofit can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling experience. Many are willing to forego a higher salary in order to work on a mission and a sense of purpose. Whether you are looking to switch into a career in nonprofit from the corporate sector, looking for a new organization or coming directly from school, here are 8 tips to get a nonprofit job:

1. Understand the variety

There are different types of organizations and roles within the nonprofit sector- from charities to NGOs. Roles in nonprofit organizations are varied but generally fall under the following categories:

  • Direct service in support of the agency’s clients or end users
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Finance
  • Strategic and operational planning
  • Information technology, marketing and communications
  • Fundraising
  • Business development and human resources

2. Focus on your skill set

Nonprofits, like businesses, want to know what you can do for them and how your unique skill set will help further their mission. Whether it’s your stellar fundraising skills, your ability to navigate complex and dynamic situations, or your ability to translate insights into marketing actions, it’s important to articulate your value to the organization. Regardless of your specific skill set, to work in nonprofit you need to be comfortable with ambiguity. As things are always changing, a nonprofit professional needs to be open and flexible to adapt to the rapid change.

3. Be clear about what you want.

Knowing what you are passionate about and how you want to give back makes it easier for you to narrow down the organizations that align with your personal values. Think about what causes you are passionate about. For example is it the environment? Health issues? Or children’s rights? Then think about the kind of impact you want to have functionally (tip #1). It’s much easier to ask for help in your job search once you have a better understanding of what you are looking for.

4. Familiarize yourself with the language used in the nonprofit sector.

If you’re looking to get a job in nonprofit, it’s important that you’re able to speak the ‘language’ and talk the talk. Get familiar with terms like social enterprise, donors (not customers), beneficiaries, theory of change and stakeholders just to name a few. And as collaboration across sectors is on the rise, it’s become important to understand the terminology of business and public policy.

5. Start volunteering.

If you’re going to talk the talk, you also need to walk the walk. This is particularly critical for those with limited to no experience in nonprofit organizations. Volunteering is not only the best way to learn about an organization, but also to get a job.  You’re more likely to be successful in your search if you can show, not just tell, that you have a passion for the cause. And bonus, you’ll likely meet decision-makers.

6. Talk to people.

Speaking with people who work for the organization you are interested in or have the job you want is one of the best ways to learn about potential job opportunities and expand your network. These chats can provide useful insights to navigate the nonprofit industry.

Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals in senior leadership roles. To make it a meaningful experience, try to focus your efforts on speaking with professionals that overlap with your interests and skills.

Insider Tip: Keep in mind the following: Be prepared for your informational interview- do your research; 2. Come ready with questions; 3. Be mindful of their time; 4. Don’t forget the thank you note.

7. Go to industry talks, conferences and events to stay up to date and continue learning.

It’s an exciting time in the world of nonprofit. From changing business models (social enterprises), digital advancements (embracing technology and social media), to cultural phenomenons (ice bucket challenge), there’s a lot of opportunity and appetite for experimentation.

Take advantage of the myriad of events, conferences and breakfast sessions hosted in your city to connect with people and continue learning. Associations like Associated Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Net Impact, Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) for example, have excellent events and conferences for the nonprofit sector.

8. Get on twitter.

Almost all nonprofits have twitter accounts. Even if you’re not ready to tweet, following the feeds of the nonprofits you’re interested in will give you a sense of their priorities and needs (hint: so you can think about how you can help them). Access to influencers and leaders has never been easier; with some basic detective skills you may also find accounts of employees working at the nonprofit you love and thought leaders sharing insightful tips and advice. To get started, try following these thought leaders @kanter, @jeancase @danpallotta.

Are we missing any tips or resources? Let us know in the comments below. If you found this post helpful, please share it 🙂

For more insights- read the Impact Economy: The Insider’s Guide to Finding Meaningful Work and Attracting Top Talent

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