Part 3: How to Become a Nonprofit Professional

Applying for a nonprofit job.

There are some key ingredients to help make you more successful in applying for a nonprofit job.

Do Your Homework.

Before you apply for a nonprofit job, research the nonprofit in order to understand the different programs that they offer and the structure of the nonprofit. Read the “about us” page on their website to get to know the different players like the Executive Director, executive-level staff, and the Board of Directors. Often there are complete bios and pictures of each person.

When preparing for the interview, practice answers to common interview questions and prepare your own thoughtful questions about the organization and the position. Here are some sample questions I use:

  1. Why do you want to work at this nonprofit organization?
  2. What would you imagine your highest priorities to be in the first six months at the organization?
  3. How do you feel your past experience will help enhance the fundraising efforts at the nonprofit organization?
  4. Describe a specific experience at your past job where you had success or a failure? What did you learn?
  5. Do you have questions for us (i.e. the interviewers)? Make sure to prepare a few questions.

I’ve had the opportunity to recruit executive level positions for my nonprofit clients and have been most impressed with candidates who have working knowledge of the organization.  I once asked a candidate on a phone interview why he was interested in working for my client and he answered by reading word-for-word off the website. To say the least, he didn’t get a second interview.


Identify ways to connect with the people you are interviewing with beyond the nonprofit. The Executive Director may have an adult child that is your age with whom you went to school with or they may have a hobby that you also share. Do your research because it will highlight you as a job candidate and prove that you will continue to be organized and prepared as an employee.


Dress to impress. A suit is almost always appropriate for an interview because it sets the tone for your professionalism.

During the interview highlight your flexibility as many nonprofit jobs require employees to work after work hours and on the weekends. Thank your interviewers for their time and send a thank you note or email (if you don’t have their mailing address).

Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.

After the interview, follow up until you receive an answer. Perseverance is an admirable quality. Networking.


Regardless of your experience and skills, many times it comes down to who you know when gaining a job at a nonprofit. Attend nonprofit mixers and professional club meetings. You will be able to meet many professionals from different areas of the nonprofit sector. Let them know you are looking for employment and your area of interest. Exchange business cards and stay in touch with folks who might be able to connect you to a potential job. The nonprofit world is a small community. Utilize the contacts you make through your volunteer experience to find out about job openings and ask for an introduction to the organization’s Executive Director or Board members. Most employers are far more likely to hire someone who comes highly recommended than an unknown candidate.

Utilize free job search tools like nonprofit email list serves, local nonprofit job listings and your friends. Attend nonprofit networking events to introduce yourself to nonprofit professionals. Let them know you are looking for a job and would appreciate knowing about any open positions. Exchange business cards and keep in touch with people you meet. They may not know of a job opening right now, but can help you down the road.


There are certain nonprofits and specific positions that pay more than others. According to the AFP Compensation and Benefits Study, fundraisers made a median salary of $66,000 in 2009. The larger the nonprofit organization, often the more they can pay. Organizations with annual budgets of $1,000,000 or more have a fundraiser median pay of $62,000. Educational and health organizations like large universities and hospitals tend to be able to pay their employees the highest out of nonprofit institutes. Fundraisers who hold professional certification have higher salaries. Certified Fund Raising Executives (CFRE) reported an average salary of $95,798 versus those who did not have a certificate, earned an average salary of $70,463.


There are other incentives beyond salary. If you work with an organization that cannot pay you more money, ask for an elevated title. If you are an Assistant or Associate, ask to for a new title of Coordinator. If you are a Coordinator, ask for a Director title. Some organizations will offer education reimbursement. There is an advantage to both the organization and you to gain more knowledge and skills through a certificate or degree program.

If you are looking for additional income, work with your boss to establish a performance-based bonus structure. Some organizations offer incentives to their fundraisers. The AFP guidelines say that percentage-based fundraising is not acceptable, but it is acceptable to have goals and metrics. With your boss you can set employment-based expectations. Set a personal goal (dollars raised, number of solicitations made, number of new donors confirmed, number of current donors renewed, etc.). Set a goal for your department if you are bigger than a one-person development shop. Also set a goal for the entire organization. There can be a minimum goal, a target goal and an exceed goal with incentives at each level.


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