how to get hired for a nonprofit job

Want to get paid to help make the world a better place? Working at a nonprofit organization might be for you. But if you don’t already have nonprofit experience in your background, there are some things you need to know about how to get hired.

Know you’ll need to be committed to the organization’s mission. Good employers in any sector screen candidates for skills and track record. But nonprofits also look for people who care about their mission. You don’t need to pretend that it’s your lifelong passion if it’s not, but you do need to be able to talk compellingly about why you’re motivated by this organization’s work in particular. (Of course, that mainly applies to nonprofits that are working to improve the good of society in some way, like educational and advocacy organizations. It isn’t as applicable to nonprofits like trade associations.)

Understand what makes nonprofits different. One of the most important differences about nonprofits is that they measure their success not in terms of profit, but in terms of impact on the world or on their constituents. In fact, by definition, nonprofits don’t make a profit – they reinvest their revenue back into their programs and the organization itself. In well-run nonprofits, there’s an enormous emphasis on measuring and increasing impact.

Know what kind of salary to expect. You might think that working for a nonprofit means taking a lower salary, and sometimes it does. But nonprofit salaries can be all over the map, so it’s smart to research any individual organization ahead of time to understand what its salary structure is like. One good place to check is GuideStar, a clearinghouse of information on nonprofits where you can look up organizations’ financial reports and see salary information for their top leaders.

Nonprofits often advertise in different places than you might be used to looking. The granddaddy of nonprofit job boards is, an enormous directory of nonprofit job openings nationwide and around the world. But many nonprofits also advertise on job boards associated with the issues that they work on. For example, organizations that work on education issues might post their openings on Teach For America’s job bank, or you might find fundraising opportunities listed with the Association of Fundraising Professionals. For campaign jobs, check Democratic Gain and The Hill. Whatever your area of interest, there’s probably a niche job board for it.

Nonprofits use different language than you might be used to. For example, nonprofits are “organizations,” not “companies,” and they’re generally (but not always) led by an executive director rather than a CEO. They most often work with donors and constituents, rather than customers. These might sound like small things, but if you use the wrong terminology, you might mark yourself as someone who doesn’t quite get how nonprofits work.

Volunteering can help. Many nonprofits use volunteers for various aspects of their work, and lending your talents can be a good way to become a known quantity, which can give you an advantage when you want to apply for a paid job opening. Don’t volunteer just as a way to get a job, since there’s no guarantee that will happen – but if you’re interested in supporting an organization’s work anyway, this can be a benefit of that. Plus, having volunteer experience on your resume can help with different nonprofits, because you’ll show a track record of charitable involvement, which can demonstrate that you’re a culture fit who “gets” the ways nonprofits work.

Don’t turn to nonprofit work for a less stressful lifestyle. Sure, some nonprofits can be slower paced, the same way that some employers in any other sector can be. But many nonprofits are quite fast-paced and rigorous, and in some organizations the stress can be intense. As with any job in any sector, you should do enough research that you know what you’re getting into. But be aware that remarks that indicate that you expect nonprofit work to be more laid-back can be the kiss of death with organizations where that’s not true.

Don’t assume that your ideas about nonprofits apply to all of them. Many nonprofit job candidates have made off-key remarks about nonprofits, and it made them seem like poor fits. For example, I interviewed one candidate who referred to nonprofits having “an accountability problem” – because it had been true at one place where she worked. There’s no faster way to signal “I don’t get your organization” than to stereotype about it wrongly. You’ll be much better served by approaching each organization individually and not extrapolating from one to another.

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

{ 110 comments… read them below }

  1. Lurker*

    “Nonprofits use different language than you might be used to….if you use the wrong terminology, you might mark yourself as someone who doesn’t quite get how nonprofits work.”

    This is so true. I was recently talking to a sales rep who wanted us to switch to using their company’s services and repeatedly referred to us (a NFP) as a “company,” talked about profits, owners, etc. Even when I corrected him, or used the word “organization” when referring to where I worked he didn’t pick up on it (which, if you’re a good salesperson, seems like something you should be able to do). It was definitely one of the reasons I did not recommend working with his company.

    This point, “In fact, by definition, nonprofits don’t make a profit – they reinvest their revenue back into their programs and the organization itself;” isn’t quite accurate. Not-for-profits can make a profit, and in fact, many do (that’s what a surplus is)! The difference is, as you point out, that profits are reinvested in the organization rather than paid out to owners/shareholders.

    1. k.k*

      The language really is important. If you don’t have experience at a nonprofit, I suggest you start reading some nonprofit blogs to familiarize yourself with the terminology. It will also help to familiarize yourself with the sector in general.

      1. kristinyc*

        Yes! I get salespeople reaching out to me all the time about how their technology can help us “Boost revenue” and acquire more customers.” Ugh, those aren’t my goals, thanks.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      We refer to our non-profit as a company. I’ve never thought about using “organization” instead of “company,” I use both interchangeably. But we are also run by a CEO that reports to the Board.
      It may be that we are a healthcare non-profit, like a hospital. And like hospitals, we spend a good amount of time talking about revenue.

    3. GRA*

      “Nonprofits use different language than you might be used to.” I was coming here to comment on this, too! I have worked for non-profits my entire career, and have seen people disqualified from jobs for referring to the organization as a “company”.

        1. L.*

          I mean, this would be completely normal at my organization, especially for our fundraising team – but I work in programs and I would use this term if I wanted to talk about value-for-money, which I very often do. We might measure impact differently than in dollars, but we still measure it. I think it’s dependent on the sector as much as anything.

            1. Someone else*

              It’s used frequently in non-profit theater. “Value proposition” is not an entirely inappropriate term if you’re selling tickets (especially subscriptions).

      1. LawBee*

        Honestly, if I were applying for jobs at a NFP, I would have to practice my butt off to prevent this mistake. It’s one of those “in the world, the word means X, but here it means Y” distinctions that is crucial in that environment, but most people would probably not grasp.

    1. SpiderLadyCEO*

      This! I have worked in politics and nps – and all of them have been fast-paced with long hours. I love what I do and I’m not complaining, but it does mean my hackles come up when someone who works in finance says they deserve to make half a million a year because they “work hard”.

      And then they complain about raising hourly worker wages. Do they not work hard????

      1. The Vulture*

        I thought that said you have “worked in politics and naps” and I was all, I’ll bet naps was slower-paced! Where can I get me a job in the napping industry?

        (I did once get $10 for participating in a psych sleep study & taking a nap, so, I have professional work experience!)

      2. Jadelyn*

        Our HR VP decided to cross-train as a teller (I work at a credit union) so that he could get a better understanding of what our line employees do every day, and after his first day on the teller line he came back to our offices and slumped into his chair with a sigh, and said “Holy shit, that is way harder than my job!”

    2. Midwest*

      I would say the same thing about my job in the public sector. The idea that it’s a golden parachute where you don’t have to work very hard is … laughable.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yes, I’ve worked there too. The thing people often don’t understand is that many times, you aren’t allowed to work any extra time, so you absolutely have to get everything done within that regular 40 hour a week timeframe, which can be tough when you have a deadline.

  2. LSP*

    I have spent most of my adult life trying to get a foot in the door with a non-profit. I have plenty of government work, with a background in communications and project management, and have done hands-on constituent services work as well. I don’t know if it’s just that jobs requiring these skills are less common in non-profits, but I have had a hell of a time getting in. I had a great interview several years ago with a large organization in NYC, and was told I was over-qualified and would likely get bored.

    I’m unable to do much volunteering due to a medical condition that eats away a lot of my free time, so I’m sure that doesn’t help my cause.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Is the problem that you aren’t finding enough jobs to apply for or you are applying but aren’t getting interviews? Sorry, it’s not quite clear from your post.

      I will say we get more qualified, brilliant applicants than we could ever even interview.

      1. LSP*

        A little of both. As i have been working at the professional level for 13 years, I go through spurts of trying to find a job with a non-profit, and including the one I mentioned in my original comment, I have had all of two interviews. The other one was definitely a stretch for me, as it was an ED position. I was amazed I was given an in-person interview.

        I prefer doing more organizing/project management work to public facing/communications work, but I find more jobs in PR than something that lines up neatly with my PM skills. Maybe I just don’t know the right lingo/job title often used by non-profits.

        1. Jaydee*

          A lot of nonprofits are not going to have specific project manager roles. That doesn’t mean that project management isn’t useful in a nonprofit – far from it! But project management is either going to be part of management in general (so you’re managing people as well as projects) or part of the project in general (so you may be officially the person in charge of the “teapots for tots” project, but you are also sourcing the teapots and recruiting volunteers to distribute the teapots and raising donations to pay for the teapots and contacting the schools to identify the kids who will get the teapots, etc.).

    2. ReanaZ*

      I would absolutely never ever hire someone for a communications or project manager role who had zero nonprofit experience. Those are really critical roles that require an ability to work extremely, extremely well within a nonprofit environment and the skills do NOT translate without a lot of cultural understanding and personal work. I have seen so, so many talent, high-achieving private sector folks fall flat on their face trying to make a direct switch. I’d never do it.

      I hear that this sucks and that you have restrictions on volunteering, but yeah. Without an extensive volunteer record or a ‘work your way up from another role’ side step, it’s not surprising to me you’ve had no luck here.

      1. H.C.*

        When I was in nonprofit, I think about half of our communication hires came from outside nonprofit world – and most did quite well in their roles (and yes, there was an adjustment period for them & the org – but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an instance of them falling face flat). So I’d say never say never. Also, LSP, if you have experience in government – you may consider nonprofits that share similar mission or provide similar service to what your department/agency did.

  3. CR*

    My career is non-profits and I think all your advice is great, Allison. For Canadian jobs, try

    1. Elizabeth*

      For arts and culture specific jobs, people can also try (though I think most of those places probably also post to Charity Village).

  4. Elizabeth*

    I’d add to mention something in your cover letter about why you want to switch industries if you have no previous experience in non-profits, paid or volunteer. It’s probably less necessary where your transferable skills might be obvious (e.g. moving from for-profit accounts payable to non-profit accounts payable) but it’s nice to get a sense of why someone with no connection to the sector is interested in the job in moving into an often difficult but potentially very rewarding area of the workforce.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I’m starting to feel like I must be the crazy one, as I read cover letter after cover letter, none of which say anything about why the person is interested in this particular job! They just rehash their resumes!

      Even from someone already in the industry, I want to hear why this workplace, why this position.

    2. Legal Beagle*

      Yes yes yes! I’ve spent my whole career in non-profits. Too many people think NFP work is easier/fewer hours/more flexible, but that’s often not the case. NFP orgs are more likely to be understaffed, in my experience, and have expectations of employees going above and beyond to fill in the gaps. If you don’t say why you’re interested in the work, I’m going to suspect that you think it’s an easier, gentler alternative to the corporate world, and that doesn’t make me want to give you an interview.

  5. L.*

    I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire career and all this advice checks out. Like any industry, there are great orgs and totally insane ones out there, although I will say nonprofits seem to attract a slightly quirkier island of misfit toys population than most of my friends deal with on the corporate side.

      1. L.*

        It’s SO TRUE. I have met some of my best friends and colleagues working for nonprofits, but also some of the WEIRDEST people. I know it’s not limited to nonprofits, but the concentration is just… higher.

    1. Greengirl*

      Seconding the great orgs and orgs that are bananas comment. It’s really important to do your research. There are some arts orgs out there in my area that I won’t touch because of things said on glassdoor and things heard through the grape vine about their practices.

      That being said though, I can tell you from years of reading Ask a Manager that there are also many companies that are bananas that are not nonprofits!

      1. L.*

        Oh, for sure – though to some extent, I do think some nonprofits actually can be a bit more dangerous, because so many people will accept almost anything early in their careers to get a ‘foot in the door’. Although I’m sure that’s true of competitive corporate industries too.

        1. Greengirl*

          Oh absolutely! I’m at the point now where I’ve been working in the field for 8 years and am thrilled that I am able to be picky now. When I was first starting out though that wasn’t the case.

          1. L.*

            My corner of the industry can be SO pernicious to people at the start of their careers – I have a whole rant which I will spare you, but having gone through the gauntlet of unpaid internships and flat-out toxic jobs to get where I am, I have become a real advocate of paying people for their work.

  6. Greengirl*

    I work in arts administration for nonprofit arts organizations. I second the advice about going to specialized job boards. is great but I know that the Managing Director of the theater I used to work for stopped using it because she got too many people who had zero arts organization experience. She started relying solely on the DC Cultural Jobs board despite the fact that half her staff told her that they had found the posting on

    I will also say that I have always worked in high stress, fast paced jobs at nonprofits. We do a lot with less so there just isn’t room for slacking off. That being said, most of my coworkers have been hard-working, dedicated individuals all passionate about our mission. That is a major plus for working in nonprofits.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Agree with the stress. Besides every day work stress, there can be an added stress of working with the public. If you work in a charity, healthcare, or social services non-profit then you could be walking people through life and death situations. Even if you don’t work with the public directly, there is stress knowing that your everyday work activities can affect an individual. But there is also the uplifting feeling when your mundane report processing means that someone will have a better life.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        If you are indeed looking at the types of roles that involve a lot of ‘encounter stress’, helping people in very difficult situations etc, I would ask questions about what support they offer. Are there any mechanisms in place to debrief after a difficult call or meeting? Do they offer any kind of supervision or reflective practice? In particular, be wary of any organisation working with people experiencing major distress or trauma that a) cannot give you a straight answer about support offered and b) does not have decent EAP provision.

        1. Kj*

          Social service NPs are bad about this, as it is assumed we just can handle it, without support. And in my experience, there is a lot of lip service about support, but little actual action… Not to be a downer, but I fled that field for a reason. That and they wanted to pay me a quarter of what I could make in the for-profit world. Money isn’t everything, but when your job is terrible and the pay is terrible and your bosses don’t care… Then you should quit.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            I guess it varies a lot. I volunteered with at-risk kids and had access to a supervision group, and now have group and 121 sessions with an outside practitioner and access to a good EAP.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      I’ve never worked in the for-profit/private sector but I agree that my nonprofit experience has consistently been pretty fast-paced with high expectations. Even in the large, established organization I used to work for, employees needed to be able to be really nimble, navigate ambiguity, and manage their own professional and skill development as the needs of the organization shifted. Nonprofit metrics are often a bit more fluid than business metrics (e.g. things like revenue, reach, etc. are usually surface-level outputs rather than the actual outcomes you’re trying to measure), and that requires a different kind of strategic thinking.

  7. Ramona Flowers*

    Non-profit employee from the UK checking in. Loved the article. I have been so happy since I switched to this sector.

    In case anyone wants any UK-specific advice:

    Over here it’s more common, at least in my experience, to talk about supporters (instead of donors) and service users.

    Job sites to be aware of include Charity Job, Guardian Jobs and a lot of good stuff goes on LinkedIn.

    Volunteering can also be a way of getting references, which can be useful if you’re new to the field or wanting to change career. When I got my current job, one of my referees was/is from a volunteer role.

    Find and read annual reports, which will tell you about things like key goals and strategy.

    If you land a first job in this sector, check whether your organisation belongs to Charity Comms. If so, you can access their free peer support and mentoring scheme. And if you’re in London, check out London Young Charity Professionals on LinkedIn.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also. What drives me crackers is when recruiters advertise non-profit jobs without saying what the charity or cause is. It’s not enough to tell me that, for example, it’s to do with a health condition, as that doesn’t tell me whether it’s the right kind of fit for me.

      1. SpiderLadyCEO*

        I hate this so much. Also, it might be one of the three orgs that is bananas, or it could be a cause I am vehemently against. At least give us an idea!

        I was very nearly hired by an org with a cause that in current job I am actively working against, because my brother sent me to the recruiter without context. I had a hilarious set of interviews, not just because of the cause but because they were bananas. Interview questions included “If you could be any celebrity, who would you be?” and “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Then they trash talked former interviewees to me.

    2. Erika22*

      As someone in the non-profit sector from the US moving to the UK in the near future (for non-work reasons) I really appreciate your advice! Do you have any other observations about differences in US vs UK non-profits that would help me make the transition, or at least make me a viable candidate when I begin job hunting?

      1. Durham Rose*

        I found it really tough to switch from US to UK in my non profit field (international development) because the funding mechanisms are quite different and they want specific experience with UK/EU funding bodies which I did not have. The positive thing I have found though, is that there are often 6-12 month maternity cover contracts that can help you get your foot in the door at an organization to get some experiences. This can also be a negative though as you feel you are constantly job searching. Also make sure you reword your CV into UK-friendly terminology (difference between project and programme, line manage vs. supervise etc)

        1. Durham Rose*

          Also salaries are WAY low in the charity sector, so lower your expectations, and then lower them some more. Mwop mwop.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Depends on the charity. I earn over £30k in an individual contributor/non-line management role and I’m pretty happy with that.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          I’m so confused as we have both projects and programmes, and I don’t know which is wrong out of line manage or supervise as both sound fine to me.

          I will mention that generally salaries are in set bands and cannot be negotiated – and annual reviews have nothing to do with pay.

          1. Lau (UK)*

            I think there’s beginning to be some movement on annual reviews having an impact on pay, sometimes with spine point progression which is closer to the public sector, but it’s very sub-sector dependent. I’d agree that price bands are fairly fixed, but there’s often some opportunity to be appointed above the bottom of the band.

      2. Ramona Flowers*

        Welcome to the UK for whenever you move here! I don’t know a huge amount about the US but one thing that strikes me is that you shouldn’t actually use the phrase ‘non-profit’. I use it on AAM as people understand the term, but over here they are always called charities. A ‘not-for-profit’ is in fact a slightly different thing here. Try to get in the habit of routinely saying ‘charity’ instead.

        1. Lau (UK)*

          Oh yes! Once you’re in you’ll find we talk about “organisations” and “VCSEs” – that’s Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprises – a lot.
          There really is a whole ‘nother language for the voluntary sector over here. Oh, and voluntary sector/third sector doesn’t mean we’re all volunteers!

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Ha – I work for a national charity and had never heard of a VCSE. Takeaway: we don’t have universal jargon :D

            1. Lau (UK)*

              I think it’s only really used by organisations with statutory contracts, and even then only in development and/or policy work.

              Jargon definitely isn’t universal but as a sector we love an acronym or bit of jargon and I suspect it’s very exclusionary as it’s like we talk a different language.

    3. Rookie Manager*

      I’d add Good Moves to the list of job sites, particularly in Scotland they have a good presence.

      If you want to learn more about the sector then Charity Job also has a blog/forum that will give you an idea about what is happening.

    4. Lau (UK)*

      Adding to the UK-specific advice – I’m exec level in development/external affairs and echo most of what Ramona said, especially in terms of job sites.
      Key advice would be to understand what type of organisation you’d like to work for, both in terms of cause and type (so do you want to work for a campaigning organisation, one which provides services direct to beneficiaries, a membership organisation or something else entirely).
      Be aware that working in the third sector, particularly if your organisation is particularly dependent on public sector funding, or on fundraising from very variable sources, such as individual givers, there often isn’t a huge amount of job security. If you’re in a delivery role, there’s a good chance that if the contract you’re working on is won by another organisation, you will transfer to that organisation.
      I got into the sector by volunteering at uni, and then starting as an admin and working my way up (surprisingly quickly) – my big jumps in responsibility have involved moving out. There’s not an expectation of very long tenure, particularly early in careers, 2 years is plenty.
      I would also echo finding a mentor, mine is private sector but brilliant, and a peer network, there are loads of regional organisations, try meetup, Institute of Fundraising (who also have great information) and Charity Comms depending what you do.
      Hands down, the best things about working in this sector are the buzz when your team gets a huge win, and when you visit services and see the difference that your work makes in peoples’ lives. Oh, and while the salary might not be brilliant, the flexibility and other benefits often make up for it!

  8. hayling*

    I do NOT recommend looking at Guidestar! The salaries of top executives at an organization have nothing to do with most of the other employees. And it will make you *extremely* annoyed if you’re one of those not-well-paid other employees!

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I’ve found it super helpful — if the person who would presumably be my boss is making less than I am hoping for? I don’t bother. (But that’s why I stopped looking at small organizations anyway.)

      1. hayling*

        OK, that’s a good point. I only looked once and only remember the super high salary of the C-levels.

        1. the gold digger*

          I got stuck doing the budget for my group at my former job (at a member organization). My boss could come up with $35K for a consultant (whose work had to be completely re-done) and $30K for a search firm (even though we had in-house recruiting) but fought over increasing my pay $1,000.

          I was happy to leave that job.

          PS He paid my replacement, this guy who did not license a single new vendor in his two years – and that was the job! – $17K more than he paid me.

        2. Lurker*

          That’s because 990s are only required to list salaries for certain positions (e.g. officers, key employees) or the five most highly compensated employees who earn $100k or more. It’s not going to list salaries for everyone. But to Lily Rowan’s point — if the Director or higher up positions aren’t listed (and it’s in a location that those positions should be making $100k plus), then you might surmise salaries for other positions are low. You can also get an idea by looking at the section of the 990 that lists total salaries paid and subtract the top earner salaries from that. If you’re left with $50k and you know there are at least 2 positions not listed then you can extrapolate those positions earn less than $50k each.

    2. k.k*

      I find it most useful for looking at the org’s overall budget. Salaries range so much in this sector, it can help you get a sense of what end they might be at.

      Plus, if they offer you peanuts but you know that they have a big budget and the ED has a huge salary, that’s very telling of how they value their employees.

    3. HMM*

      I agree with you re: salaries, but it’s still helpful to know the financial details (tax form 990, for US readers). When I transitioned to a nonprofit, I was really careful to investigate how much money the org was making, the breakdown in spending, and where the money was coming from. There’s only so much detail you can glean, but it’s helpful to at least get a sense of their financial stability. Part of the reason I joined my org was because it’s not entirely donation-based or grant funded. We earn revenue from business partnerships, which makes the org (and my job) so much more stable.

    4. Allypopx*

      I think it can also help contextualize the offer you get. At a management level I’m making a little less than half what our ED makes, which is fine. If it was more like 15-2o%, that would give me pause.

  9. AndersonDarling*

    At my non-profit, we screen big time for the right fit. We want people who are genuine and helpful. Non-profits tend to have vague job boundaries so you need someone who is willing to help everyone do their jobs. You may be hired as an IT Tech, but you may be asked to give a tour of the building or to help ship pamphlets.
    We watch out for people who say things like, “that wasn’t my job” or “I didn’t have time to help them as much as they needed.”
    At a non-profit, everyone works toward the Mission. Sometimes that means doing your everyday TPS Reports, and sometimes it means driving a carload of bananas to a volunteer event.

    1. TCO*

      You make a good point about the “all hands on deck” culture. I’ve found this to be true both in nonprofits with fewer resources and those with more. Particularly when your org/dept is smallish, you have to be flexible about being asked to occasionally step outside of your core job duties (and perhaps even your usual schedule, if there’s a big event or something). I tend to find that those moments build teamwork and offer fun opportunities to do new tasks, but they’re not for everyone. It’s a good thing to ask about in an interview–what the “other duties as assigned” might consist of.

    2. CR*

      Yes, that’s very true about all the jobs I’ve had. Fit is huge. Lots of people come to non-profits from different backgrounds, which doesn’t matter so much.

    3. Koko*

      I think vague job boundaries is more a characteristic of small businesses/non-profits than it is of non-profits in general. My boss would be really unhappy if I took an hour away from my regular work to help stuff envelopes or drive supplies to an event because my hourly rate is several times what we pay temps who are equally capable of doing those things. It would be an irresponsible use of our funds to have me spend my time on that.

      But there are over 600 employees in my org so we all have very narrowly-defined specialized jobs. The fewer employees you have the more hats you can expect each employee to wear.

  10. B*

    Very good all around advice. In a nonprofit you do so much more with much less, it is tricky but can be well worth it in the right company.

    Ironically, I am seeking to get back into the forprofit sector and am having the darndest time getting others to see past the stereotype that nonprofit is quiet, easy, laidback and lala work. It’s a pickle to get into nonprofit but it is also a pickle to get out.

  11. Shauna*

    I would also add to people considering a transition,and unfamiliar with nonprofit lingo, is that a very broad hierarchy/job progression in terms of job titles (in the U.S.) looks something like this:

    Program Assistant/Program Associate/Specialist: entry level
    Coordinator/Manager: upper entry/mid-level
    Assistant/Associate Director: mid/senior level
    Director, Deputy Director, Executive Director: senior leadership level

    Gross generalizations, but gives an idea to newcomers.

    1. CR*

      I would add “Officer” to mid level – at least where I am, that is a really common title, higher than Coordinator.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        We just started using the title Officer and it threw me for a loop. I’m used to hearing Officer as a VP level, reporting directly to the CEO, position and the people who recently gained the title are more along the lines of managers. They are at the top of their department umbrellas (only 4-5 employees in each department), but they don’t make many independent decision. I was wracking my brains trying to figure out why they became “Officers.” I guess I had been over inflating the title.

      2. L.*

        It’s funny, “Program Officer” would be entry level in my neck of the woods! But “Program Assistant” would be more of an admin role than a programs role, and “Coordinator” isn’t usually a thing.

    2. De Minimis*

      This is one of my major complaints about the sector, the job titles. I am at the Associate level, and where I work that’s the tier above entry level, but the job title makes it sound like a lower level job.

      And our tiers are somewhat nebulous to begin with, there’s a large group of people who are above Associate but who don’t really manage anyone and aren’t Directors. Many are called Sr. Associates–most of them are on the program side. They make more than the other Associates, but not nearly as much as Directors. But they’re still basically on the same tier as I am. We also have at least a couple of Managers who don’t really manage anyone or manage very few people. One of our managers is is in the same tier as I am, though makes toward the top of the scale.

      The senior leadership people [ED, Deputy Director, and Director of Finance] are the only ones that really have appropriate job titles. I have noticed that sometimes people will get a change in job title as part of a promotion [though duties usually stay the same.]

      1. Mimmy*

        I had a job in a nonprofit where my official title was “Teapot Data Coordinator”, but my duties were comprised of mainly data entry. I did eventually gain some additional duties, like verifying others’ work and running reports, but still not quite to the level of “coordinator” in my book.

    3. H.C.*

      Hmm, in most of my nonprofit dealings – coordinators & specialists are switched in seniority & experience levels (coordinators are entry level & involve more admin work, specialists are higher level with more program ownership & specific work), so YMMV depending on the organization, I guess.

  12. Deloris Van Cartier*

    All really good points Allison! I’ve had plenty of colleagues switch from for-profit to non-profit and as someone who only worked in non-profits since graduating, a couple of things I wish colleagues had know beforehand:
    1. Please don’t think of your job as a retirement job. I’ve had multiple colleagues who’ve made the switch later in their careers and most thought that the non-profit field would be all unicorns dancing on cotton candy clouds. It comes with its own challenges and a whole different set of stressors. It can also be super insulting to those of us who’ve spent years working in non-profits that you think this is a step down in your career and an easy way to transition into retirement. One of the most infuriating conversations I’ve had with a “retirement job” colleagues was where he would talk about how much he use to make, told me that this job gave him “play” money and how he felt like he didn’t have the pressure to work as hard. As someone who lives just above paycheck to paycheck, I was amazed that he couldn’t see how obnoxious and out of touch he was with most of his coworkers.
    2. Many times, you’ll be working with less staff and resources than at previous jobs. You may need to do tasks that you use to be able to delegate before. At times, it may be all hands on deck which means you’ll need to jump in on a task like stuffing goody bags or picking up an item before an event. You may also not have the equipment or supplies you need and you have to be creative with how you get what you need. Most of us wear multiple hats so be prepared for that and understand that with the lack of resources comes burn out and stress, no matter how much people care about the work their organization does.

  13. ReanaZ*

    I laugh manically anytime someone tries to tell me nonprofit work is ‘laid back’. Child please. Imagine the most demanding, stressful, high standard for-profit industry but add in consistent resource shortage and a giant helping of “if you ever push back on any of it, it’s because you hate the chiiiiiiiildren”.

    That is on the dysfunctional side but not an exageration. Nonprofit guilt is STRONG and even in the most well-run NFP I’ve ever worked in, folks transitioning from corporate just wandered around a bit shell-shocked constantly.

    1. Allypopx*

      Ask for a raise. “I guess if you don’t want Timmy to get a Christmas dinner…”
      Ask for vacation time “(cause) doesn’t take breaks”
      Buy something nice for yourself. “People are going to think we’re paying you too much and they might not donate”
      Not want to work endless uncompensated overtime “I just don’t feel like you’re committed to our mission”

      There are some reeeeal toxic mindsets in nonprofits.

      1. Lousy Louise*

        I’ve been trying to make the switch from public libraries to nonprofits and this is one the of things I worry about. I’m not well off by any metric, but I like to save to treat myself to nice things. I’ve seriously worried about showing up to an interview for a non-profit with the Kate Spade bag I scrimped for and got during a surprise sale.

      2. L.*

        I feel so lucky to be at a point in my career where I’m able to clearly advocate for myself as a professional. “If [cause] wants to evaluate its progress according to industry-recognized standards, they need me, and my skills are valuable and worth paying me a liveable wage in the extremely expensive city where I live.” Like, I’m not asking to make millions off our donors, but getting to where I am has been expensive (I’m still in debt from it), and I don’t feel badly that I make my reasonable salary or take time off.

        Back when I was an intern/super-entry-level? I accepted SO MUCH bullshit on behalf of “the team”, “the cause”, “that’s how things are”. “This is a nonprofit, we can’t pay for HR/pensions/benefits/interns/administrative help, so just pitch in until you’re bleeding” made sense to me, because I wanted my job so much. Granted, I was also much more useless, but that’s where everyone starts, and I deserved to eat as much when I was an intern on below-minimum-wage as I do now, all fancy and mid-career-professional.

        1. ReanaZ*

          Yeah, me too. But it’s shocking how much of our industry only exists on the backs of exploited do-gooder labour.

        2. ReanaZ*

          Also, to not burn out in nonprofit work, you really have to get directly comfortable with the fact that there’s a LOT of suffering in the world you’re never going to be able to do anything about, make peace that you can only do what you can with what you have, and get good a healthy professional boundaries AND put up with the cultural momentum of an entire industry that wants to delay you learning that lesson as long as possible.

          1. L.*

            YES! So much truth to this. It’s such a hard, hard thing to figure out – I was lucky to finally get a boss who understood it and enforced it within our team. It’s made a huge difference for me.

      3. paul*

        At least the second and last happen with for profits too; it’s not at all unique to non profits. It’s dysfunctional in either though.

        1. ReanaZ*

          Well, yeah. We’re not saying there aren’t dynfunctional for-profits. But there’s a unique intersection of that same kind of dysfunction with the tugging-on-the-heartstrings of mission-oriented-do-gooders that just doesn’t exist in the for-profit space in the same sort of way.

          Think of the difference between a plumber and an organ transplant surgeon. Both are important jobs with frequent unpredictable schedules / responding to emergency that has real consequences in people’s lives, and a dysfunctional workplace will exploit that (or just manage it poorly). But “if you don’t do this job, this person will be miserable all weekend with no hot water!” is substantively different than “if you don’t do this job, a actual human person could die”*. It just is. And it’s a reality of the sector that is horribly exploited and that those of us committed to it long-term (15 years and counting for me!) have to contend with daily (hopefully in healthy, sustainable ways).

          *note, if you do this job poorly because you’re exhausted and burnt out, an actual person could also die but shh we don’t talk about that in dysfunctional places

  14. ArtsNerd*

    This is all good advice and discussion.

    One thing (building on what Shauna’s posted) to be mindful of with small organizations is title inflation. If you see a job posted that only asks for 3 years’ experience but is a Director of such and such… it’s typically a sign that the pay is so low that they try to make up for it with important-sounding titles. For some people it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, but something to know.

    Also, re: “less stressful lifestyle” – I can again only speak to smaller organizations, but I want to stress that you frequently don’t have the resources you really need. I spend at least 10% of my time piecing together solutions with bubble gum and scotch tape, whereas a for-profit office would likely invest in tools/services by then. Honestly, I rather enjoy the bubble gum construction challenge but it is NOT for everyone.

    You know those stories about horrible ‘charities’ spending all of their money on overhead and admin instead of programs? Your salary is admin. Your health benefits. Your desk chair, computer, printing budget, software licenses, ability to outsource tasks to specialists … all of that goes into the ‘evil’ overhead.

    I love this take on that:

    1. Allypopx*

      Do they at least supply the scotch tape?

      I was so resource scared by one job that when I started this one and they told me I could buy whatever kind of pens I wanted I was elated.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Yeah, my ED was surprised to learn that I bought my own wireless keyboard and mouse. I was surprised to learn the org would have paid for them. (I’ve had them long enough, I’m not worried about reimbursement at this point.)

    2. k.k*

      Title inflation is so frustrating when job hunting! I’m looking to move up and recently found a listing that sounded perfect. Higher ranking title, more advanced duties, good cause….and then at the bottom requires 0-2 years of experience and pays less than my entry level job. I’m just glad they included a salary. I would hate wasting time applying/interviewing only to find out the gig wouldn’t pay my bills.

  15. Kim*

    The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has a fantastic job board. I would recommend all nonprofit job hunters check it out.

  16. Josie*

    this advice is largely pretty obvious stuff. i disagree that voluntary sector organisations only measure success in terms of their impact, though – many people working in the sector will have to manage budget and there may well be requirements on their department to make a surplus, or at least break even.

    1. Amy*

      I would argue that budgets and revenue are more just a necessary function that the org has to deal with and not the overall goal/mission/purpose of the org itself.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I guess the key thing here is annual reports in the corporate world are about profit but in the charity sector it’s about what you did with the money.

  17. Amy*

    As a former recruiter for an International Non Profit, I can honestly say that fit was more important than skills for the most part. I was always looking for individuals with great enthusiasm and drive. Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door (and you don’t have to volunteer all day, every day- occasional volunteering is great). Also, check out AmeriCorps, we hired a lot of individuals once they were done with that program as well. Just be careful if you are fortunate enough to get the job in non profit, you’re not going to light the world on fire immediately. I saw too many fresh grads (especially) get discouraged when they couldn’t cure the disease immediately or clean up after the hurricane immediately or build that house immediately. There’s a lot of bureaucracy in non profit land as well.

  18. kc89*

    After reading these comments it seems like there is a stereotype that non profits are slower paced or ‘easier’ to work (which most if not all of the comments are saying is an incorrect stereotype)

    I’m surprised because I always thought of nonprofit work as having long hours and little pay and lots of hard work, I don’t know who thinks its easy!

  19. char*

    I work for a non-profit and I didn’t realize I was supposed to call it an “organization” rather than a “company” until reading this… I guess I’m lucky my managers aren’t sticklers for terminology.

  20. Megpie71*

    I grew up with my father working for a small charity (non-profit) organisation in the mental health field here in Western Australia. His beginning job was “Field Worker”, and he ended up as “Programme Co-ordinator” – all the way along, his main job was to go to various group meetings and make sure they were being run correctly (according to procedure); make sure the Organiser and Recorder of each group were capable of doing their jobs; doing outreach to various other mental health organisations in the area; and doing general administration (budgets, applications for funding, planning and organising events, researching new options, etc). This entailed a lot of evening work (the majority of the groups were held in the evenings) and some travel outside our city. There was also fund-raising (mostly from government sources) and events such as swap meets, various weekend retreats, and so on for him to be doing.

    What it actually looked like from our side was Dad working something like 50 hours a week (8 hours per day in the office, then another 2 hours per night most nights for various meetings, plus travel time; plus country trips which could be 8 hours driving followed by a 2 hour meeting that evening then another 8 hours back the next day, after which it’s back to the office; plus frequent Sunday swap meets and similar) and only being paid for about 37.5 hours (paid equivalent to a public service ASO4 salary, which is based on full time hours of 7hrs 21min per day 5 days per week, with no overtime). He got an organisation-supplied car and petrol money out of the deal (which he needed).

    It’s probably worth noting when he retired from that organisation (after about 25 years working for them) the next job he got was doing heavy labouring work for an assaying firm about 40 minutes drive each way from where he lived, and he actually found this more relaxing!

Comments are closed.