A friend of a friend is going through a mid-career shift, like so many people that I know. She just emailed me asking for advice on finding a job in the non-profit field. I’ve posted previously about job hunting in the not-for-profit / NGO world (here and here), and of course went through my own rapid employment shift at the end of last year. So I’ve done some thinking on the matter. Here’s what I wrote to her:
This resume looks solid and detailed, which is helpful.
On the plus side, you have a wide range of potential organizations to
choose from, spanning education, social service, development, and the
arts. That’s better than some people who want to work only on climate
change, for example.
Keep reading for the rest of the email…
You should have some idea of the size and structure of organization
that you would like to work for. I.e. a small mom-and-pop startup
group, a large national institution, a New York City-focused social
service group, a liberal thinktank, etc.
The advantage of a smaller group is that you get to learn pretty much
everything about how to run an organization, from the telephone system
to balancing the books to public relations. But you often have less
infrastructure and support to do larger scale work because your
resources and staffing are so small.
On the other hand, in a larger organization you might be very
specialized in the kind of work that you do (organizing the annual
fundraiser dinner, keeping the database updated, etc.) But you will be
in a larger institution with more resources and hopefully better pay
Right now I’m at a New York based non-profit that has 50 employees and
focuses on international issues, which is exactly where I want to be
right now. You have to decide what is the right balance for yourself.
A great place to start is the website Idealist. They have lots of
resources for job seekers, which you can find here. I got my previous
non-profit job via Idealist, and can’t say enough good things about
The Foundation Center also has a nearly comprehensive listing of about
20 different job search websites geared toward non-profits.
Monster.com and hotjobs.com also have non-profit categories for
searching and posting your resume as well. But those are of course
incredibly high-traffic job search sites, so expect to be competing
against hundreds of people for any decent positions.
Of the categories of jobs most likely to be available are development /
fundraising focused and in administration / management. Non-profit
jobs involving primarily editing and writing are few and far between,
in my experience. Social service non-profits often have needs for
intake workers, trainers, and other client support people, but the pay
is often quite modest.
I believe this is the part of the email where I say something about the
importance of "networking." I will be the first to admit that I am
shitty at what most people think of as networking. I am nearly
incompetent at "working the room," giving an "elevator pitch," or
"getting to yes." What I am good at is identifying where there are
needs among various parties and finding ways to connect people and
institutions together in ways that gets those needs addressed. So in
that sense, I’m a networker.
If you can identify a clear need that an organization faces (getting
media attention, finding new funding sources, servicing their members
better, etc.) and put yourself forward as getting that need addressed,
you’ll never want for work.
My last bit of advice is not to give up. There are more needs out there
than there are people to do them. And there are lots of great
non-profits that could use the help. Finding that right one that
matches the skills and qualities that you bring to the work is
challenging but not impossible.
Good luck and good hunting!