10 things to know about applying for nonprofit jobs

If getting paid to make the world a better place would be a dream job for you, here are 10 things you should know about making the transition into a nonprofit job.

Nonprofits have all the same types of jobs as the for-profit sector – and then some. Just like businesses, nonprofits need people to do accounting, web design, management, editing, I.T. work – all the same jobs you’re used to seeing, so there’s a good chance that whatever you do now has a counterpart in the nonprofit sector. And on top of that, nonprofits have additional roles too, like volunteer organizers, fundraisers, and grant writers.

Nonprofits have fewer resources. Often – but not always – you’ll find there’s less money for salaries, plush office space, staff expansion, training, and resources generally. It’s common for nonprofits to be understaffed, so you might be expected to wear several different hats. And if you’ve been working in the for-profit sector (as opposed to being straight out of college), you should probably expect a pay cut.

Passion matters. Like any employer, nonprofits screen candidates for skills and the ability to do the job well. But they also look for people who are really interested in their organization in particular – someone who specifically wants to work there, or on the issue they work on. They’re often looking for people who won’t see the work as a 9-5 job, but who will really care about the work they’d be doing, so they’ll be more likely to put in extra hours, go the extra mile, or put up with the consequences of having limited resources.

But passion will only get you so far. If you have passion for the issue but you don’t have the skills to do the job well, the passion won’t take you very far. Be prepared to show you have the experience and skills to excel.

Your cover letter is key. Your cover letter is always important, but especially so for a nonprofit job. Use it to talk about why you care about the issue and the organization.

Drop the jargon. Make sure your resume doesn’t contain jargon that won’t make sense outside your industry. (You should do this for any job, of course. But particularly when applying at nonprofits, industry jargon can mark you as someone who won’t adapt well to the culture.)

Speak the language. Nonprofits have different terminology than the for-profit sector. For instance, you’re seeking work with their organization, not with their company. (Nonprofits aren’t companies.) They deal with donors, not shareholders or customers, and they often have an executive director rather than a CEO.

There’s a different bottom line. In business, the bottom line is financial. For nonprofits, it’s about impact in the world. You’ll be expected to share that perspective too, which can often mean longer hours at lower pay.

Make it clear up-front that you know what you’re getting into. If you’re moving into nonprofit work from the business world, hiring managers will appreciate knowing that you’re prepared for the differences you may encounter, particularly when it comes to differences in pay structures.

Don’t believe the myths. While some nonprofits fit the stereotype of a more laid-back, less rigorous culture, not all do. There are plenty of fast-paced, highly demanding nonprofits, and in fact, there’s a growing movement in that direction … which is good news for everyone who cares about making a difference in the world.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. Class factotum*

    Want to make a living doing something good in the world?

    Isn't anyone who works for a place that provides a (legal) good or service that people want and/or need doing something good? :)

    I would be very sad if nobody were making chocolate or bacon!

  2. Dave C*

    Another way to make a difference is to take a job at a for-profit company and donate any extra money you make above what you would working at that non-profit directly to it. For me, I feel I can be more effective this way. Plus as a major donor I get treated really well. :-)

  3. Lani*

    maybe it should be changed to "Want to make a living doing something especially good in the world?"

    Even McDonalds does good with Ronald McDonald house

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