3 Tips for Getting a Job in the Nonprofit Sector

The nonprofit sector is notoriously hard to break into. But just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. With a few helpful pointers, nearly anyone can find a career in the field.

Tip #1: Research How Nonprofit Organizations Function

Ideally, employers are looking for candidates who already have experience working in the nonprofit sector. But younger job seekers, particularly those fresh out of college, may not have this experience yet. A quick and easy way to overcome this obstacle is to research how nonprofit organizations function. Candidates should know how organizations get their funding, what the requirements are for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and be familiar with common terms that are used in the industry.

Tip #2: Volunteer

The sooner, the better. No, seriously. Volunteer experience leaves a lasting impression with any employer, but this is especially true for those in the nonprofit sector. Candidates will have a hard time convincing employers that they are passionate about giving back to the community without the experience to back it up. Often times, college students make the mistake of waiting until after they graduate to volunteer. With only a few months of volunteer experience under their belt, it often looks like a last-ditch effort to secure a job.

Tip #3: Attend Events

The same old, worn out, cliché advice about networking holds true for the nonprofit sector just as much as it does for any other industry. A great way to start building those connections is by attending events, whether that’s a fundraising event or a conference. Not only does it show a high level of interest and engagement, but it also shows dedication. Plus, nothing beats being able to talk to someone face-to-face. In a world where an average of 118 people apply for a single job, it’s critical that applicants set themselves apart in some way.


Funding Leadership Training in the Nonprofit Sector

Leadership training and education is an important part of keeping nonprofits healthy, especially when it comes to transitioning between CEOs or other major leadership positions. The problem is, different organizations take different views on what kind of training is needed and funders have different ideas of what kind of training is worth funding. But according to Bridgespan, a nonprofit organization that works with other groups to improve leadership and subsequent impact, there is a gulf between what funders fund and what grantees need.

Much of this seems to come down to the ability of organizations to communicate their needs to funders, but in order to do that, the organization needs to understand what those needs are in the first place. Some might put the focus on individual training of leaders or even employees who could transition into such roles. Others might put the focus on larger changes to organizational culture, allowing them to instill certain leadership mentalities in employees across the board, hoping to improve the group as a whole.

What works for one nonprofit isn’t necessarily going to work for another, and figuring out what works in a given organization may take time and effort, all of which needs to be funded in the first place. As with so many other aspects of the nonprofit sector, the key to doing so is transparency. Donors need to know how money is being spent, and if that includes exploratory studies to figure out the best way to educate an organization’s leaders in order to improve its ability to follow through with it’s mission, then they need to know that.

Of course, once an organization knows what kinds of leadership training it needs to engage in to improve impact, that needs to be made clear as well. Funders want to help nonprofits achieve their missions, and if the argument can be made that leadership training will improve the chances of doing that, then those efforts should be able to secure funding.


The Nonprofit Sector is Failing the People it Means to Serve

The nonprofit sector is failing people of color and other under-served communities. While there are plenty of organizations that work with these groups, rarely are they actually run by people from these communities. Even when they are, these organizations tend to be lacking in the kinds of operational capital that makes other organizations successful.

As Candi Cdebaca, the young CEO of Project VOYCE points out, this is because the nonprofit sector is predicated on privilege. It was founded by rich white people to help others and has developed into a system that maintains both privilege and poverty. After all, without people to help, there would be no nonprofit sector.

That may sound hard to swallow, but if it is, it may be because you’re a part of the problem. This isn’t to say that you, dear reader, are actively working to oppress people and further the goals of privilege and white supremacy. In fact, if you’re reading this, you probably aren’t consciously doing these things. But the problem is, as 2016 in general has done an excellent job of showing, these systems perpetuate themselves subtly.

Cdebaca doesn’t suggest some overarching solution to the problem, that’s beyond the scope of her piece and well beyond the scope of this website as well. But what’s important is that we realize these issues exist, and begin a conversationlocally, nationally, globally, about how to fix this issue. Many of us have argued that having more people of color at the head of nonprofits, especially those geared towards the issues faced by people of color, would make a big difference. Although it definitely would, it’s something that we haven’t even come close to accomplishing yet.

But diversity on it’s own isn’t enough. Diversity needs support in order to work, because all the nonprofit CEOs of color in the world can’t help if the color of their skin continues to prevent them from having access to capital and resources.