How to Find Your Ideal Nonprofit Job

Nonprofit Careers Appeal to More People Than Ever

If your idea of a nonprofit organization is a small group of volunteers stitching quilts in a church basement, think again.

Nonprofits represent 10.2% of all jobs in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That translates into 12.3 million jobs. Additionally, the job growth at nonprofits has outstripped that of most other sectors, even during the recent recession, according to a Johns Hopkins report on nonprofit employment.

In fact, nonprofit jobs have gained popularity. The nonprofit world attracts more people every year, including new grads, career changers, and newly retired people who often develop capstone careers serving causes they believe in. Even colleges and universities have awakened to the value of nonprofit careers and now offer many graduate degree programs specifically for students considering going to work for nonprofits or who want to move up the career ladder.

If you are among those considering a nonprofit job, here are a few tips to help you in your job search.

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Identify the Causes You Feel Most Passionate About.

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You will be a much more desirable nonprofit job candidate if you speak passionately about your desire to work for a particular cause. You are also likely to know more about an area if you have been following it for some time.

So what do you care about most? Healthcare? The environment? Immigration? Poverty? International issues?

Research the causes you are interested in, donate to them, sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on social media. The more you know about the trends in the causes you love, the more attractive you will be to those nonprofits.

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Check Out Nonprofits Closest to Home.

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Start your nonprofit job search with your city or town, and then work out from there. There are likely to be several grassroots organizations locally even if you live in a small or medium-sized city.

In larger cities, you'll find many local chapters of national nonprofits. If you are in a position to move, take your job search nationwide. Check out online nonprofit job listings and subscribe to key publications.

Most nonprofits now list their nonprofit job openings right on their websites, so bookmark your favorite ones and check in regularly.

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Use Informational interviews.

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It is true that many job searches are conducted online. However, personal contacts and networking continue to be necessary. Personal contacts and referrals may be even more relevant for jobs in the nonprofit sector. So don't wait for an online response to your online application. Talk to anyone who might be able to help you make contacts in the nonprofit world.

Most people who work in nonprofits are quite willing to grant an informational interview to people who want to know more about charitable work. Use your current contacts to find those individuals.
In an informational interview, there is no pressure. You are seeking information. You are doing the interviewing. However, it is not unusual for these meetings to lead to job offers. Informal conversations like these are a great way to make contacts and learn about potential openings.

Don't just walk in cold, however. Prepare several questions before the interview, and be sure to send a thank-you note soon afterward.

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Volunteer for Your Favorite Charity.

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Volunteering has a plethora of benefits, including helping with a job search. Volunteering is an excellent way to try out an organization too.

You can tell a lot by volunteering, such as how organized the group is, how seriously it takes training, and whether the charity's resources are adequate.

The contacts you make through volunteering will be valuable later in your job search. You may even have the inside track for openings. Many volunteers have become paid staff. Also, when volunteering, you may meet other volunteers who can help with your job search.

Research has shown that volunteering can help with job searching even when your interest is not in charitable work. You may hone valuable skills and make helpful contacts.

In fact, LinkedIn, the premier social network for professionals encourages volunteerism with its LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace and by designating space on individual profiles specifically for volunteer experience

Be sure to tout your volunteer experience on your resume too. Volunteer experience impresses many employers today as they look for socially aware folks.

One survey found that more than 80% of people who make or influence hiring decisions look favorably on volunteer experience by applicants. Unfortunately, only one in three resumes includes that information.

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Find a Nonprofit Internship.

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You likely know that an internship can be life changing. Well, nonprofits also offer internships. If you are still in school, create your own internship by contacting nonprofits and offering your services. Your college or university may be able to place you in a nonprofit through its channels.

Many nonprofits advertise internship opportunities on their websites and in special interest publications. You may be able to find them listed on the many nonprofit job search sites. A nonprofit internship can be an excellent way to get the inside track to a nonprofit job. An internship at a nonprofit might even pay a stipend. 

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Use Social Media.

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Social media can be a wonderful way to search for a nonprofit job. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn can be excellent tools to learn about charitable organizations, find valuable contacts, and to make yourself more visible.

Most nonprofits now have a presence on the major social networking sites, and people who work at nonprofits are active users of them. Follow some of the nonprofit job sites such as Opportunity Knocks and Idealist through Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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Cast a Wide Net

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There are nonprofit jobs in just about any field you can think of.

For instance, in that Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Employment Report mentioned in the introduction, you can find the scope and diversity of employment in the sector.

Just consider that more than half of all nonprofit jobs in the U.S. are in the health care field, 14% are in education, and 12% are in social service.

Consider a teaching career, a career in healthcare, government, or a museum job. More nonprofit causes are identified each year, and organizations to serve them are created at a rapid rate.

For a preview of what nonprofit work is like, check out some of the publications, in print and online, that provide the intellectual backbone of the field. You'll learn a lot and get ideas for what you might want to specialize in.