Whether you are a recent graduate or looking to make a career change, working in the nonprofit industry can be incredibly fulfilling. Most of us will ultimately spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so why not spend those hours passionately engrossed in a job where you can do your part to impact humanity? At least, that's how I felt after I left a three-week-old job in the for-profit sector to go work for a nonprofit.
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That was 13 years ago, and I haven't looked back since.
To gather the following tips, I enlisted the help of some former colleagues and associates – 27 of them, to be exact. These 27 nonprofit employees range from program directors to fundraisers, from lawyers to executive directors. Some have been working in the nonprofit field for as little as 10 months, others for more than 32 years.
Here is what they – and I – had to say:
1. Network With Other People Who Work in Nonprofit
Ask friends and family for introductions. Peruse LinkedIn to find connections and send carefully crafted personalized messages to people you are interested in getting in touch with. In general, meet as many people as you can who work in or know people in the nonprofit industry.
2. Set Up Informational Interviews With Organizations You Admire
Take your networking to the next level. Reach out to the nonprofits you are interested in learning more about. I have found that most people in the nonprofit world are happy to help.
3. Intern! Jump Right Into the Volunteer Experience Full-Time or Part-Time
Hands-on nonprofit experience will open many doors. If you can afford to give some or all of your time as an intern or office volunteer, you will gain priceless experience and continue to solidify your nonprofit network.
4. Attend Conferences and Join Groups Geared Toward the Nonprofit Sector
This, of course, will help you expand your nonprofit network (see tip No. 1).
5. Go Back to School – or at Least Take Some Courses/Workshops in Your Area of Interest
This will also help you expand your network. But don't spend an exorbitant amount of money before – you guessed it – you network to make sure you are making an educated and thoroughly researched decision.
Remember that your previous experience, whether as a student or a for-profit employee, can translate and become a sought-after asset to nonprofits. However, you should be cautious about walking into a new opportunity with too much confidence. Be open to learning, ask lots of questions, and most importantly, be a team player. Most nonprofit employees wear many hats out of necessity. Take their lead and be willing to stretch beyond the job description.
As with any job, there can be frustrations. There was a time at one of my previous jobs when we couldn't afford to replace the colored ink, and I desperately needed to print hundreds of invitations for an upcoming fundraiser. There were several times when our computers and servers crashed, putting us days behind in work. We couldn't afford to replace them.
And then there is the "Fortune 100" of nonprofits – you know, those national organizations that actually have marketing budgets and can pay for fancy PSAs and celebrity influencers? I've also had the pleasure of working for one of those. They can be wonderful and really give you the sense that you are impacting thousands, if not millions, of people – but you might also be up against just as much bureaucracy and red tape as you would be at a for-profit company.
For all the compromises nonprofit employees often have to make, I asked my former colleagues: "What's the best thing about working in nonprofit?" Here are a few of my favorite responses – ones that I wholeheartedly agree with:
- "My work has true meaning."
- "Feeling totally passionate about the cause."
- "Working in a place that attracts people who care about things beyond financial gain."
- "Knowing that my work has an impact."
- "Working with amazing people in this sector that truly want to do good."
- "Discovering a true passion for helping others."
- "At the end of the day, no matter how bad of a day you've had, you know that someone somewhere is better off because you came to work that day."
And my personal favorite:
- "You get paid to make a difference in the world."
What a dream come true!
So go out there and network, reach out to groups you are passionate about, build your support team, and join this incredible world of people who can't wait to meet you.
Mona Lipson joined Voss Foundation in 2016 as director of strategic advancement and corporate citizenship to spearhead the organization's fundraising initiatives and corporate citizenship with VOSS Water of Norway.