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  • Karen Butterfield and Kristen Curtis

Tips and Tricks for Job Hunting in the Nonprofit Sector

By Karen Butterfield and Kristen Curtis of KE Butterfield, LLC.


Whether you're an established professional looking for a career change or just getting started and have your sights on a fulfilling career in the nonprofit sector, there are a few considerations before embarking on the journey to your next job.

Evaluating why you are motivated to work in the nonprofit arena is a crucial element that will help you determine how to highlight your skillset, experiences, and find roles that suit you and will benefit the organization. To help you get started, we've outlined a few tips and tricks for finding employment in the nonprofit sector:


Get Experience - Volunteer or Serve on a Board

Volunteer opportunities, internships, or serving on a nonprofit board can be a great way to build experience, your network, and to have your name recognized in the nonprofit world. Volunteering also can boost your prospects of finding employment and enhance your resume, helping you stand out to hiring managers. Job boards like Impact Opportunity can help you find opportunities in your area.


Don't Focus Solely on Causes… at First

When people talk about being motivated to work in the nonprofit sector, they tend to think of specific causes or issues. It is essential not to focus solely on matters or causes when looking for nonprofit work but also on the structure of the organization itself, from funding to impact model. The more you understand about how money flows and the impact of specific programs, the higher the likelihood that you can effectively evaluate how your skills could support the organization's growth.


Take Stock of Your Competencies, Then Increase or Sharpen Your Skills

At the beginning of any job search, taking stock of your core competencies and how they might benefit a nonprofit organization is important. While some skills translate no matter the sector or field – communications, problem-solving, and strategic planning among them – by assessing your own experience, you can easily find transferable skills, like finance or public relations, you can bring to a new role (and discuss in an interview). You can also identify gaps and actively work to develop critical skill sets.


No one has every competency needed to succeed in a new role. While functional transitions like finance, communications, and operations will be less complicated than stepping into an entirely new function, that doesn't mean such transitions are impossible.


There are a number of ways to increase your knowledge in all aspects of the nonprofit sector with online courses, such as those offered by NonprofitReady. With free classes on everything from marketing to grant writing, finance, engagement, fundraising, and more, nonprofit hopefuls can learn essential skills for success in the sector whether they're transitioning from for-profit, need a refresher, or they're moving up the nonprofit ladder. In addition to courses, Nonprofit Ready also offers free certificate programs that demonstrate a commitment to professional development and to making an impact in the sector.


Research the Market and the Organization

Understanding the market is a key component in any job search. Stay up-to-date on what's available in the nonprofit sector by connecting with groups, organizations, and job boards that cater to the space. Many nonprofit and mission-driven organizations post jobs to job boards, such as Impact Opportunity, LinkedIn, and Idealist.


Once you begin a dialog with a nonprofit it is important to research the organization. This can be done through reading the organization's IRS 990 Form, which not only provides information about tax-exempt organizations for the IRS, but are used to share information about an organization's mission and programs with the public. Other ways to learn about a nonprofit include requesting interviews with key leaders, reading articles on the organization, and searching for available program evaluation reports.


Your Network Can Help Open Doors

Your network can play a crucial role in your job search, as those working in the nonprofit sector have a pulse on available opportunities. Attend conferences, stop into local events, or get involved in online groups. Check out Professional Networking Dos and Don'ts for more information on leveraging your network.


Be Resume Ready

In the nonprofit sector, your resume and cover letter are as important as ever. It is critical to ensure these documents are up-to-date and show your skills and how you've evolved as a professional. Be sure to highlight skills that will serve the organization, no matter what sector in which they were developed. For example, if you have experience in business planning and budgeting or you've helped with grant writing, call attention to those skills. For more information on how to get your resume in tip-top shape, check out this article on writing a clear cover letter and resume.


Prepare Ahead of the Interview

When given the opportunity to interview for a position in the nonprofit sector, make sure to research the organization before your interview. Look for initial signs that you have the skills and values to help shape the organization, and follow up during the interview to ensure the organization lives its values. Sample questions you might ask include:

  • What is your most successful program or initiative and how has it made a difference in the lives of those it serves?

  • What is the top area of opportunity for your organization and how do you see this role contributing to its enhancement?

  • What do you wish more people knew about your organization and the work you do?

  • What are your most urgent needs and how are your needs currently being met?

  • What could help the organization fulfill its mission more effectively?

  • If I wanted to get to know the organization better, aside from the website (if they have one), where could I learn more?

It also might be beneficial to have a mentor, friend, or family member conduct a mock interview with you. Importantly, if you interview and someone else is chosen, politely ask for feedback to help with your next opportunity.


Show Gratitude Throughout the Process

Being grateful is memorable. Even if you end up not getting the role you applied for, it's important to thank those who have helped you in your nonprofit job search journey, no matter the part they played. Don't forget to pay it forward by helping others in the same position in the future.


There are no shortcuts to finding the right role in the nonprofit sector, but with a little elbow grease, research, and patience, you can find your next fulfilling, rewarding career.

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