5 Tips for Landing Your Dream Nonprofit Job

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Jenni Luke, Executive Director, Step Up Women's Network






By Jenni Luke

Embarking on a career in nonprofit can be extremely rewarding.  But often job seekers’ expectations differ significantly from the realities of interviewing for and finding the perfect nonprofit position. These five tips will help you navigate the transition from for-profit to nonprofit:

  1. What are you passionate about? The first question you will be asked in a nonprofit job interview is, “Why are you passionate about our mission?”  Many people think that working for any cause will be more rewarding than what they are doing now.  But that does not make you valuable to a nonprofit that needs you to live and breathe its mission.  Discover what you are passionate about; then embark on your job search – not the other way around.
  2. Volunteer. The best way to demonstrate commitment to a cause is to volunteer.  Find an organization with a mission that relates to your passion and get to know the staff and the executive director.  If this is an organization you’d like to work for, begin volunteering for them – it will definitely give you a leg up in the interview process. Case in point - the program manager at Step Up’s New York office volunteered with us for nearly a year, and when we had an opening, she was the first person we thought of for the position.
  3. Take informational interviews.  Sit down with people in the nonprofit field to better understand their roles and where your skills might fit best.  If you have a sales or marketing background, you may be great as part of the fundraising and development team.  If you have fiscal management skills, you may be a great operations manager. It’s also worth asking about the salary and benefits package you can expect for a specific position.  This is often dependent on the size and mission area of the organization.
  4. Develop a skills-based resume.  Now that you know the mission area you are passionate about and the position you’d like to apply for, craft your resume to highlight the skills you bring to the position.  While the chronology of your work experience is important, the first thing the employer will look for is evidence that you could successfully manage a $5 Million annual budget or achieve $1 Million in fundraising from events annually.  So in these cases, list any budget management, fundraising or sales work that you’ve done – whether in your day job or as a volunteer. Correlate your transferable skills and accomplishments to the skills required in the job description. 
  5. Do your research. Before you go in for an interview, research the organization online - has it been in the news recently? Are there are recent developments related to the subject of its work? Visit its website to learn who is on the board of directors.  Review any annual reports or program materials to educate yourself about the goals of the organization.  To understand its fiscal health (annual budget, ratio of program to overhead expense, cash in reserve), do an internet search for the organization’s 990 or research it on  Continue your research on sites like Charity Navigator to understand how the donor audience perceives the organization. 

Transitioning from one career sector to another is more common than ever.  If you’ve ever dreamt of exploring a career in the nonprofit world, start laying the foundation now.  It’s time to go for it.

Jenni Luke is executive director of Step Up Women's Network, a national nonprofit membership organization based in Los Angeles. Previously, Jenni served as the director of development for The Alliance for Children's Rights and most recently, the ACLU of Southern California. Jenni holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado School of Law and a BA from UC San Diego.

Read Jenni Luke's earlier post: 4 Ways to Give Back (& Get Ahead)

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