CEO Jenni Luke

-this post was inspired by a piece Jenni first did with Today’s Chicago Woman-

Embarking on a career in nonprofit can be extremely rewarding.  But often job seekers’ expectations differ significantly from the realities of interviewing for and finding the perfect nonprofit position.  These five tips should help you navigate the transition from for-profit to nonprofit.

  • What are you passionate about? – The first question you will be asked in a nonprofit job interview is “why are you passionate about our mission”?  Many people think that working for any cause will be more rewarding than what they are doing now.  But that does not make you valuable to a nonprofit that needs you to live and breathe its mission.  Discover what you are passionate about; then embark on your job search – not the other way around.

  • Volunteer – The best way to demonstrate commitment to a cause is to volunteer.  Find an organization with a mission that relates to your passion and get to know the staff and the executive director.  Being on the inside is the best way for you to learn about the nonprofit sector.  If you know which organization you’d like to work for, begin volunteering for them – it will definitely give you a leg up in the interview process.  For example, our program manager at Step Up’s New York office volunteered with us for nearly a year, and when we had an opening, she was the first person we thought of for the position.
  • Take informational interviews – Sit down with people in the nonprofit field to better understand their roles and where your skills might be the best fit.  If you have a sales or marketing background, you may be great as part of the fundraising and development team.  Your fiscal management skills may make you a great operations manager.  Often the titles of nonprofit sector jobs don’t have a clear relationship to positions in the for-profit world and the work can differ substantially.  You also want to understand the salary and benefits package you can expect.  This is often dependent on the size and mission area of the organization, so it is worth asking to understand the differences you may encounter when applying.
  • Develop a skills-based resume – Now that you know the mission area you are passionate about and position you’d like to apply for, craft your resume to highlight the skills you bring to the position.  While the chronology of your work experience is also important, the first thing the employer will look for is evidence that you can successfully manage a $5 Million annual budget or achieve $1 Million in fundraising from events annually.   Correlate your transferable skills and accomplishments to the skills required in the job description.
  • Do your research – Before you go in for an interview make sure you do an internet search of the organization to see if it has been in the news recently or for current events relevant to its work.  Check out the website to see who is on the board of directors.  Review any annual reports or program materials to educate yourself about the goals of the organization.  To understand its fiscal health (annual budget, ratio of program to overhead expense, cash in reserve) do an internet search for the organization’s 990 or research it on  Continue your research on sites like Charity Navigator to see how the donor audience perceives the organization.

Transitioning from one career sector to another is more common than ever.  If you’ve ever dreamt of exploring a career in nonprofit, go for it!

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