This post was written by Ellen Berry on behalf of the Case Foundation:
Working for a nonprofit organization can change what was the daily grind into a hopeful climb. Each completed task brings forth feelings of selflessness and purpose. For career seekers looking for more rewarding work – who want to see their contributions have more meaning than simply lining the pockets of profit – finding a paid job with a charity can lead them on a whole new path of lifetime accomplishment.
In many ways, non-profit organizations operate just like for-profit companies. They have many similar roles, departments, and policies. But there are some important factors to consider when preparing a resume for a non-profit job. The following are tips for writing a tailored resume showcasing the skills and attributes that appeal to non-profits.
How Non-Profits Organizations Operate Differently from For-Profit Companies
Resources: Money comes into non-profits through donations and grants. Donations can come from individuals or corporations, and can include free services or materials such as office supplies, cars, or computers. Employees responsible for buying goods are prepared to negotiate with vendors for every purchase – asking for lower prices or donations of some or all of what is needed. Grants are available funds offered by foundations or governments for which organizations apply. They may be used to fund specific programs within an organization, or for assets like technology. Writing grant applications is a key activity for most non-profits.
Resume writing tip: Emphasize creative financing and negotiation skills for cost savings. Promote writing skills, and consider taking a grant writing course.
Marketing: Although non-profit organizations may have products and services that are marketed using the same methods as for-profit companies, much of their communications activities are centered on fundraising, preserving relationships with established donors, and spreading the word about their causes. Marketing departments are also responsible for providing reports to board members and funders, so they often work closely with departments that track data about progress and outcomes (how well the organization’s initiatives are furthering the mission).
Resume writing tip: Previous experience in fundraising can go a long way, even if done informally. (Consider volunteering for fundraising events to get experience.) Provide examples of data-driven marketing and public relations work (especially when working with little or no budget). Technical, creative, and analytical competencies are highly valued, so be sure to emphasize them.
Accountability: Non-profit organizations are held to the highest standards of behavior – and so are their employees. Policies may not be well documented, but everyone is expected to be doing their best to help achieve the organization’s mission, and therefore must act accordingly, especially since they are being paid in large part by donations from funders who want to see positive change. Boards, donors, and grantors expect to see comprehensive data showing measurable progress towards specific goals.
Resume writing tip: Emphasize work on written reports and experience with data analysis and measurement. Demonstrate a conservative work ethic and positive attitude.
Culture: Money is a means to an end for nonprofits. They are mission-driven, not profit driven, and their culture often reflects this. Success is defined differently. Employees may still be paid a decent wage and receive benefits, but every dollar is scrutinized to make sure it is allocated where it should be. Because of this, the culture of non-profits can be political. Everyone wants to make sure the mission is furthered, but may disagree on how best to do this. At the same time, because money is stretched as far as possible, employees are generally expected to be willing to pitch in and help with any project at any level of responsibility, when necessary, for as long as it takes.
Resume writing tip: When citing accomplishments, include examples of successful negotiation with other departments – for example, proposals that were made, defended, and approved. Demonstrate flexibility, team-oriented willingness, and initiative to get things done regardless of job description or hierarchy. To indicate a good fit with an organization’s culture, be careful to use appropriate terminology (e.g. organization, not company) and avoid using jargon from other industries. Above all, communicate an enthusiastic familiarity with the specific cause and an overall passion for making a difference.
Guest blogger Ellen Berry 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. She writes about a variety of education and career topics for BrainTrack.com and has contributed to BrainTrack’s Career Planning Guide, which features information on writing effective resumes, matching personal passions with promising careers, and job search strategies.