by Heather Krasna
If you are committed to making a difference in the world, your career search may lead you to the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations work in the realms of education, the environment, health, human services, international aid, religion, arts and culture, advocacy, philanthropy and more. The nonprofit sector can be a very creative place because it is beholden neither to shareholders to make a profit (as corporations are), nor the voters or elected officials (as government agencies ultimately are). A creative approach can work well when entering this field, as the following ideas will show.
Using Niche Job Boards And Networking
Nonprofits tend to post their jobs on specialty job boards, like Idealist.org, Philanthropy.com, and OpportunityKnocks.org, as well as local online discussion groups and social networks. But while you can find nonprofit jobs just by applying, it’s also vital to network, because nonprofits are often in a tight-knit community and many jobs are filled by internal referral. By reaching out to people in the field via Linkedin and professional associations, you also will learn the language and culture of the field so you can make a smoother transition. [Editor’s note: See more in our Volunteering and Nonprofit Career Resources.]
Volunteering Your Way To a Job
One classic way to find a nonprofit job is through volunteering. Hope O’Brien, the national student program coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights, was hired for her current job after she volunteered in an unrelated role (as a research intern) for two months. “I had demonstrated my interest in the organization’s mission and showed that I was capable and personable,” she says. Hope’s advice is to demonstrate your skills, commitment, and passion. “Because hiring someone is such a risk, organizations prefer to hire someone who is familiar and trusted. Organizations also prefer to hire someone with experience. Get the experience you need, whether it’s paid or not. I volunteered … for years. I learned how politics, funding, and management affect organizations. I also got to discover whether I actually wanted to do this kind of work.”
Several other people who appear in my book Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service got their jobs by volunteering. Carol Dunn started her career in disaster management and education through volunteering as a translator for the Red Cross, which eventually certified her in the field; and Amy Whipple, Midwest regional coordinator for ALS Therapy Development Institute, transitioned from a sales career after raising more than $1.5 million for them as a volunteer.
Like corporations, nonprofits must have a board of directors. Volunteering for a board is a great way to make new connections, both within the organization you’re on the board of and in the nonprofit community, which can lead to job opportunities. Claire Hendrickson, volunteer programs coordinator at Highline Seatac Botanical Gardens, began studying horticulture after retiring from the airline industry. She began serving on the board at the botanical gardens, and when the nonprofit lost its volunteer service coordinator, she offered to step into his place. “I sent my resume and cover letter, and they accepted me,” she reports.
Proposing a Project
Hendrickson also holds a volunteer coordinator position at South Seattle Community College. “Here, I have a part-time job that I created. I was invited to join the Arboretum Committee, and I attended their retreat several years ago. After the retreat, I saw what work needed to be done, came up with a proposal for a project… and they accepted.”
Self-Funding Through a Grant Proposal
One former student of mine at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington landed his current position running programs for a youth-serving arts nonprofit by successfully writing a grant proposal which funded his new job. If you have grant writing or fundraising skills (or want to develop them) and focus your efforts or raising money for an organization you care about, you might be able to raise enough to pay for your own salary.
Beth Booram, a writer, started networking for two reasons — “research for a new prospective book and an opportunity to meet individuals in my field who might have or know of positions for which I would be qualified and interested,” she says. “I developed a questionnaire for my research purposes and then initiated [conversations] with approximately 25 people over the course of a few months. In the course of the interview, I was able to introduce myself … This approach not only provided a deepening understanding of my research topic, it led to two excellent part-time roles, contract consultant with the Center for Congregations and the spiritual formation director at White River Christian Church — and an offer to publish another book!”
Starting Your Own Nonprofit
Last but not least, if you are especially passionate about a cause and you don’t think an existing nonprofit is fulfilling the need, you can consider launching your own nonprofit. Finding a board, incorporating, and raising funds is a lot to take on, but with 1.6 million nonprofits in the United States, it is a path many have successfully undertaken and can be the perfect fit for someone wanting to combine their passion and career.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2010.
Heather Krasna, MS, is a career-services professional with more than 12 years’ experience and the author of Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service. Heather is also director of Career Services at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, a top-ranked Master of Public Administration program, where she helps students and alumni find great jobs in public service. Heather graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Michigan, and has a Master of Science in nonprofit management from Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy, a certificate in adult career planning and development from NYU, and has served on several nonprofit boards of directors. Learn more at her Website.