Part 1: How to Become a Nonprofit Professional

Okay, we are back on track with the nonprofit career posts.  I’ve divided up some good advice as well as (hopefully) entertaining stories from my career and experience of climbing the nonprofit ladder.

Nonprofit organizations can provide very rewarding careers.  If you are considering working a nonprofit, ask yourself:

What do you want from a nonprofit job?

  • You may enjoy being able to “make a difference” in your community or world.
  • You may have personal experience with receiving nonprofit services that bettered your life and want to help others like you were helped.

What would be your ultimate goal working for a nonprofit?

  • If your long-term goal is to become an Executive Director, work to set short-term goals that will help you gain this position.
  • As a mid-level manager, consider what steps you can take to climb the next rung on the nonprofit ladder.
  • Most likely, it will be a combination of gaining additional experience, focusing your skills to find a niche, supplementing your experience with education, and looking for the next position that will bring you one step closer to your goal.
  • If you have never worked in a nonprofit, you will need to start by gaining employment.

To obtain a job in the nonprofit field, the most important element is to be passionate about the nonprofit’s mission.  Find a nonprofit that provides services to a population you are passionate about serving.  Be able to fully articulate why you want to work at the specific nonprofit organization.  As a job candidate, you need prove your individual connection to the organizational mission with specificity and demonstrated action. Think about the real reason you are applying to the position and be thoughtful about communicating that.

Often you will start in an entry-level position.  The key to success is proving yourself in the “low” positions so you can move up.  Even with a college degree, your first job will often include administrative duties like wrestling the fax machine into submission, updating the database, making copies and answering phones.  Although these are menial tasks, look at the skills you will develop like how to organize an office so that it could run most efficiently or how to multi-task in order to get more things done.  These skills will carry you into your next position and help you elevate your role in nonprofits.


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