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The Real Invisible Woman

How to get a nonprofit job: Get experience.

By Amanda Ponzar

Bleeding heart Nonprofits aren’t just populated by bleeding-heart saps who can't get a real job. Many people WANT to take their marketable skills and use them to make a difference. Maybe you do too. So, how can YOU get a nonprofit job (or a nonprofit client)? 

Here are a few tips:

  • Intern. Three members of our 25-person department at United Way Worldwide (UWW) previously interned for us. "Interning at UWW helped me get my permanent job here," said Amber, communications manager, "and volunteering as well as several other internships were extremely helpful in getting that internship." Amy, senior associate, agreed: "I believe I got the job here because I had interned and the team was familiar with my work...I tried other places but nonprofit was right, so why not the largest nonprofit?" Another young woman who helped out with our national awards program while job hunting got a full-time position at another organization after only a month "working" for us.
  • Volunteer. Although my parents had me out volunteering from the time I was knee high to a Volunteers11_low grasshopper, strategic or "skilled" volunteering in my area of expertise (communications) was key in helping me break into a full-time nonprofit career. Volunteering as publicity chair at the American Diabetes Association in St. Louis and helping with their annual fundraising gala for two years helped me land a job at American Red Cross which then opened the door at United Way. To find volunteer opportunities where you live, try Volunteer Solutions or Volunteer Match.
  • Do pro bono work. Pro bono is not just for lawyers! When I worked for The Anderson Group, I was thrilled to help create United Way of Berks County’s annual leadership giving event materials. Just one example.
  • Be exceptional. Read “Want to get a nonprofit job, here’s how to stand out from the crowd”. Every organization wants great people, so start by being good at what you do.
  • Research nonprofits BEFORE you send a cover letter or show up in your cute little suit for an interview. I once interviewed someone who, when asked “Why do you want to work for United Way?” said she loved our focus on the environment. Oops. And every candidate says, "I want to make a difference, and you have a great organization." YAWN! Do your homework, know what you're talking about and why -- specifically -- you are a good fit.
  • Use LinkedIn to see if you know anyone that works at the nonprofit you're interested in, and network till the cows come home.

Cake Volunteering especially is a great way to learn new skills (fundraising, community development, advocacy, etc.), network, make new friends, feel better about yourself (research proves it!), and best of all: help improve people's lives and strengthen your local community. Who knows, down the road it could even land you a nonprofit job or a new client -- but that's just icing on the cake.  




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Thanks for your comment. I've posted twice on how to get a nonprofit job and hope to share more ideas in subsequent posts, including tips from recruiters. If you have any questions or suggestions, let me know.

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Thank you for all the interesting information, I will be looking forward to your next posts.

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