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How To Position Yourself As A Strong Nonprofit Candidate

Many candidates can find it difficult to land a job with a nonprofit, but it doesn’t have to be that way! The nonprofit industry is unique in many ways, and as a result, so is a typical nonprofit job search; this means that a candidate looking to get hired at a major organization simply needs to take a creative and strategic approach.

Whether you’re looking to move on from your current organization or land your first-ever position in the nonprofit industry, it’s important to know what employers are looking for in a candidate and how you can display these qualities throughout the various stages of your job search. Typically, nonprofit employers value candidates who are…

  1. Genuinely interested in and passionate about the organization’s mission. A candidate who has a passion for a potential employer’s mission, and who is able to clearly present that excitement, is a huge advantage over one who is simply looking for a job.
    So what should you do? Apply only to organizations whose work you truly care about. If you find a position that looks well-suited to you but isn’t quite in the trajectory you envisioned, do a little research to learn more about the organization before applying and eventually interviewing. This includes being up-to-date on current events and what major projects the organization itself has worked on lately so you can show in an interview that you’re invested in more than a paycheck.
  2. Willing to wear different hats. Nonprofits often have an “all hands on deck” mentality, especially around major events like galas or audits. Being able to handle various duties across departments is key.
    So what should you do? Highlight your relevant skills in an interview, such as communication skills, an ability to multitask, and adaptability. Use concrete examples from your past positions in which you put those skills to use to show the employer that you can handle the job, whatever it entails.
  3. Experienced with donor databases such as Raiser’s Edge and Salesforce. This is something always in demand in most nonprofits. “In our experience, some hiring managers will actually choose a candidate who is proficient with donor databases over someone with other relevant experience or education,” says Dana Scurlock, a Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Nonprofit division.
    So what should you do? Highlight any donor database experience in a prominent area of your resume. If you don’t have any related experience with these programs, consider taking a tutorial or gaining hands-on experience through an internship or volunteer work.
  4. Ingrained in the industry. Nonprofit can often be a very inclusive and competitive industry, so many job seekers land jobs through old colleagues, recruiters, and other professional connections. Employers need candidates who can hit the ground running and, as a result, are prone to relying on word of mouth from trusted references to choose the right candidates.
    So what should you do? Network, network, network. Attend industry events, volunteer, and keep up communication with those you meet and currently know. Connecting with a recruiter can also be helpful, as it gives you an extra set of insider eyes on the job market as well as someone to vouch for you to employers. Finally, if you’re currently employed, be sure to give plenty of notice before leaving your current role—the industry is small and word gets around quickly, so the last thing you want to do is harm your reputation.

Ultimately, the key to beginning or continuing a career in nonprofit is to be passionate, creative, and focused. “One piece of advice I’ve found useful is to always have a career plan,” says Samantha Wolf, a Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Nonprofit division. “Knowing where you’d like to be in one, three, and/or five years is always helpful for staying on track, and will give you something to talk about in an interview that will show employers you’re in nonprofit for the long haul.”