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Job Search In Non-profit Requires Elbow Grease

Earlier this week, a friend of mine asked me to give some job search pointers to a young woman who had recently been laid off from her non-profit position.  I get similar requests from folks on a regular basis due to my position as a non-profit executive, but also because of my early roots in staffing.  Helping out in this area is something I enjoy and that is a nice break from the plate spinning of running a non-profit.  (I know this officially classifies me as a nerd if this is my idea of enjoyment.)  While I was sharing some thoughts on this young woman’s resume, as well as some of my general tips, I decided this would be good information to share with everyone.  If in the course of reading you have some additional helpful hints for folks, I encourage you to post a comment & share.  We wouldn’t be where we are today if someone hadn’t imparted wisdom to us, so why not return the favor.

Common knowledge teaches us that there are a few basic areas to concentrate on when it comes to a non-profit job search, regardless of whether you are entering the field or looking for a new opportunity:  Preparing, and Looking & Expanding.

Before you can nail down that non-profit job, you have to prepare properly.  In my career I’ve seen my fair share of idiotic submissions for positions.  For a good laugh, read an old post I wrote called, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Submit Crappy Job Applications“.  In my opinion, the vast majority of individuals do the bare minimum before releasing their resume into the universe, resulting in less than stellar results.  Here’s some of the general tips I share with folks searching for a non-profit job, and to put my money where my mouth is, I’m including a link to my online Career Attributes, which are directly derived from my own resume.

  1. Your resume should only be one page. When I was in college someone once told me that only CEOs should have more than one page to their resume.  An easy way to do this is either to drop the oldest jobs OR drop the small temporary ones that aren’t really in the professional area you are looking for.  Additionally, use all available white space if needed.  I never understand when I get a 3-page resume and the margins on the page are 1.5 inches wide.
  2. Consider replacing your “Objective” with a “Professional Profile”, which is 3-5 bullets of your overall skill set.  It is hard to stand out from everyone else if you all have an objective that states “I am looking for a position in the non-profit arena.”  The prospective employer already knows this or you wouldn’t be applying to their position.  Right off the bat, tell them what you have to offer over the other guy.
  3. Include any quantitative numbers you can. Ask yourself some of the following questions, they help give scope to your experience.

  4. How many people & how much $ did the walk bring in?
    How many volunteers did you manage?
    How many Educational Seminars did you assist with?
    What was the total amount you helped secure in grants?
    What growth did the organization see under your supervision? 

    So instead of saying “Organized our annual charity walk,” you say “Organized ABC Walk with more than X number of participants and raised more than $X.”  It allows your perspective employer to get a better picture of your experience level. 

  5. Be creative & descriptive in your bullets. They don’t need to be long, just give them punch.  Every bullet and job should highlight a unique skills.  Don’t be afraid to brag on yourself.  This is what resumes are all about.
  6. If you have worked with any other industry specific software, include that. Did your former organization use an online fundraising tool like Convio or a donor management tool like Raiser’s Edge?  Did you use it in your position?  If so, add it.  If I see that someone has worked in a particular program that we use or that is similar to what we use, that is always a plus.
  7. How developed is your cover letter? A cover letter can tell a lot about a person.  I tailor my cover letter for every single job I apply for.  It’s an added effort, but it helps out in the long run.  I’m sure to highlight skills that would be of particular interest to that specific position, and I make sure to triple check my letter so I’m haven’t referred to another position I’ve just applied for.  I can’t tell you how many cover letters I see like this.
  8. Ask a non-profit professional to review your resume & cover letter for you. That doesn’t mean ask your friend who just graduated from college & landed her first job in non-profit.  Instead see if one of her supervisors or ideally her own executive would look over it for you.  That way you get a perspective from someone who not only has already been in your shoes, but who also thinks like those who would be potentially hiring you.

Just like preparing before you begin the job search, it’s important to go the extra mile when looking for a job in non-profit.  Here’s some ideas you should take into consideration:

  1. Where to look? There are a million job sites out there claiming that they are the best way for you to land a job, but let’s face it, right now, the market is saturated, and the truth is most job sites suck.  My overall recommendation is to try multiple avenues, job sites, organization’s sites, blogs on non-profit jobs.  If you you seem to be getting positive results with certain ones, focus on them.  Everyone has their favorites, but here’s some that I recommend: – A national online job site focused exclusively on the nonprofit community.  I personally have both found excellent candidates and found my own positions through this site.  However, I will note, it can be of greater use in certain cities.  It was very useful when I was in Atlanta, but they don’t have a large base in Charlotte where I currently am located. -An interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives.
    Jobs For a Change – The non-profit job section of

  2. Send your resume to organizations you’d like to work for. Not everyone would agree with me on this, but I’ve seen it in action.  A really great resume came across my desk of someone from someone who had a connection to our cause and wanted to see if we had any openings.  At the time we didn’t, but not soon after a position did come available, and she was first on my list to call for an interview.
  3. Volunteer to work at non-profits you’d like to work for or in industries you’d like to gain experience in. VolunteerMatch & HandsOn Network.  I currently have nearly a half dozen volunteers that are either looking for work/experience or new to the area and looking to network.  Some are volunteer in our office several hours a week and some are on our steering committees.  It is an excellent way to see what areas of  nonprofit you like, get your foot in the door somewhere you’d like to work, and it can be a great resume booster.You can find some really great opportunities through places like
  4. Take time to increase your knowledge base. Make yourself more marketable by expanding your non-profit training.  If you are currently unemployed, take advantage of the extra time to expand your horizons.  Online seminars are a great way to do this, and the beauty if most are free or very inexpensive.  Places like Wild Apricot Blog even post a monthly list of webinars that various entities are conducting.

Anyone who has worked in non-profit for more than 48 hours can tell you, the competition is tough and the expectations are high.  I used to laugh when people found out I worked in non-profit and immediately asked, “Is that a full-time job?”  To which I’d always reply, “More like 3 full-time jobs all at once.”  But year by year, non-profit careers are garnering greater attention, understanding and appreciation, which means everyone wanting to get in & stay in better roll up their sleeves & get to work.

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