Feb
03
2011

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Landing a wage-paying nonprofit job is becoming easier than it was during the last two years, especially with larger organizations.

A recent report from the human resources consulting firm Nonprofit HR Solutions indicated that the job market for nonprofit work may be stabilizing. Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey 2010, a report in which over 500 nonprofit organizations were surveyed, said that while over 50% of respondents had to eliminate positions in 2009, only a tenth said they did in 2010. At the same time, approximately 43% expected to create new full-time positions in response to a rise in demand for their services, and most of these had a greater number of employees.

These statistics and others included in the report can help people seeking employment to formulate a job-hunting strategy for 2011:

Finding Nonprofit Employers

It may not seem like hunting down employers would necessarily enhance your employability, but nonprofits frequently have little or no formal recruiting budget; they may not even have an HR department. So you must be assertive and seek out jobs with organizations that may not be advertising or posting positions online. Here are tips for broadcasting your availability effectively:

Scope out the scene: Research news stories to identify larger nonprofit employers in your area through their press releases and events. Compare community statistics to identify trends in growth between organizations.

Plug in to the right places: Make sure you regularly use job hunting tools on LinkedIn and Facebook (87% of survey respondents used these two online social media communities to search for candidates). The majority of nonprofit employers rely heavily on word-of-mouth from friends and colleagues to find great candidates, so volunteering and networking are essential tools in your job search.

Know what you're getting into: Choose jobs with nonprofits that are more likely to hire employees with your skill set. Many new jobs will be in direct service, so it will be even more important than before to select a nonprofit that serves a cause that is meaningful to you, because you will likely be performing hands-on work. In addition, a job that is pivotal to furthering an organization's mission is less likely to be eliminated.

For example, if you are a website developer and want to teach other people how to make functional use of the Internet, a job working for a nonprofit that teaches young adults how to make websites would be easier to find and keep than a job at a nonprofit that provides books to third world countries and needs someone to expand and maintain their website.

Choosing the Less-Traveled Path

Because many nonprofits are less structured than corporations, it's more important to get in the door with a reasonably-matched position compared to an ideal one. They're more likely to value the diversity of your skills, and put you to use wherever the need arises.

Make do...then make it work for you: Consider not only jobs that match your full arsenal of skills, but also those for which you are simply well-qualified (even if they may come with a "step down", lateral move, or only appear to make use of some of your skills).

In the same way, because so many nonprofits look for employees outside of their organization but within the sector, you may want to take your second or third job choice if your first isn't available, with a plan to move within a year or two to your number one choice (after having gotten experience that will increase your employability).

Demonstrating Your Value

When presenting your resume, writing a cover letter, and interviewing for a nonprofit position, be sure to provide examples of the following:

Nonprofit experience: Almost half of all higher-level jobs were filled with candidates from other nonprofits within the sector in 2010, and 39% of mid-level positions were promoted from within, according to the survey. This means that previous experience working for a nonprofit significantly increases your chances of being considered for many jobs; in fact, it may be the number one qualifier.

If you do not have previous experience working for a nonprofit, you are more likely to get an entry-level position. (However, you are likely to move up more quickly in a nonprofit than in for-profit work if you show a passion for the cause, willingness to work hard and do whatever needs to be done, occupy a role essential to daily operations, and have important skills that are hard to replace.) To gain nonprofit experience, offer to volunteer for the organization of your choice.

Referrals and references: If you were referred to the organization, or have references that will be recognized and valued by hiring decision makers, be sure to present these as soon as possible in your interactions with potential employers.

Caring for the cause: In addition to reading the job description carefully, be sure to take an in-depth look at the organization's literature. Then adjust your resume to target not just the responsibilities of the position, but the culture and purpose of the employer. The more you portray an understanding of and caring for the cause, the more interested a potential employer will be in hiring you.

Mission-critical competencies: Emphasize experience in fundraising, grant writing and proposal writing, strategic planning, graphic design, marketing copywriting, videography, project management, event planning, public speaking, teaching, training, consumer / sponsor relationship management, accounting, budgeting, analysis, payroll, hiring, benefits administration, policy writing, fluency in other languages, research, data analysis, reporting, website development, social media expertise, and supervision.

Transferable skills: You may not have experience working for a nonprofit, or in the particular field of service, but you likely have some skills that transfer easily to most jobs. Be sure to highlight examples of flexibility with work schedules and responsibilities, the ability to multitask and prioritize on the fly, a willingness to serve everyday beyond your job description, a passion for learning and professional growth, organization and planning skills, an aptitude for problem solving and negotiation, vision and innovation, attention to detail, leadership skills, personal responsibility, and maturity.

Certifications and training: Being certified in human resources or project management, for example, can go a long way toward enhancing your employability, as well as courses or a degree in public administration or a related field. If you are serious about wanting to work for a nonprofit, you can't go wrong by taking a grant writing class as a way to amp up your qualifications.

Bonus perks: Be sure to mention other ways that you can make the organization look good to donors and board members at minimal cost, based on your particular qualifications. For example, depending on the job for which you're applying, having contacts in the community that will help further the organization's mission can help you stand out as a candidate. Or, being a member in a professional association can provide access to resources useful to the organization.

As you compare different job opportunities with nonprofits, keep in mind that they have gone through a tough couple of years, and therefore are stretched thin. Nevertheless, they may be eager to hire you in order to alleviate their strain in meeting a quickly growing number of those they serve. Be careful to truly evaluate the culture, fiscal responsibility, stability, and reputation of the organization, and the specific responsibilities and expectations of the role, before committing to any new nonprofit job.

Guest blogger Ellen Berry writes about a variety of career and education topics for BrainTrack.com. In addition, she has done consulting work for the United Way, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc., the Eckerd Family Foundation, the Pituitary Network Association, Yes Teach!, and the Saint John's Health Center Brain Tumor Center's Pituitary Patient Support Group.

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