7 Tips to Successfully Start a Career in Nonprofits
Changing your 9 to 5 with dreams of starting a career in nonprofits is a life-altering decision. But if your heart and values align—making the decision to leave the corporate world brings some beautiful benefits.
Whether it’s experiencing work that empowers you within, or making meaningful impact for individuals in need—supporting a cause you feel connected to is one of the greatest things you can do.
However, today, it’s no secret that this desirable benefit is producing a rising demand for nonprofit jobs. What was once an under the radar career choice, is quickly growing into a highly competitive field.
But as we all know, the best things in life don’t come easy. Based on 14 years of experience, we have 7 tips to bolster your self-awareness, tools, and readiness as your prepare for your transformative transition into the exciting world of nonprofits.
Cross the bridge before you come to it.
You’ve probably muttered or at least heard the origin of this saying: “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Now, we’re encouraging you to do the opposite.
Committing yourself to starting a new career in a new sector takes courage. You will encounter unknowns on this journey. But knowing who you are is the roadmap to your destination. Rather than determining your identity based on results—declare it boldly beforehand.
Give yourself permission to say goodbye to your corporate identity of yesterday. Or whatever it may have been.
Shout it out to the world: I’m a nonprofit job seeker! The nonprofit sector is about people helping people. And as a skilled professional, you have plenty to offer your new employer. But if you keep your desires to yourself, who will know your services are available?
This bridge we speak of—strengthen its foundation.
Shouldering a new identity and carrying it with confidence can be challenging at first.
But by nourishing this identity with truth, you’ll fast-forward your professional transformation.
Begin by immersing yourself in the nonprofit world. Read nonprofit blogs (nice start here 👍), follow respected thought leaders, attend free virtual nonprofit events, and research missions you aspire to serve. Doing this will help you learn insider lingo, new market trends, while safeguarding you from that feeling of being an outsider looking in.
Knowledge is the quickest way to acquiring self-confidence. It’s critical you make time to learn your new arena!
Volunteering can help you land your dream job.
Starting a volunteer project that you care about—could be your ticket to the big show.
Not only will volunteering help you stand out from the crowd, but you’ll get a nonprofit on your resume, build connections, and learn what kind of mission inspires your work.
In the perfect world, by the time your first interview approaches, you will be fully immersed in your project and will have plenty of valuable and rewarding volunteer work experience to share with your interviewers.
Hiring Managers who see a nonprofit candidate volunteering their time to a cause—know instantly—that they are a candidate to be taken seriously. After all, giving back is what this sector was founded on.
Stand by your values—fulfillment will follow.
Feelings inspired by an inner lack of fulfillment, is a major reason why people seek a career in nonprofits.
You might have experienced these kinds of feelings at one time or another.
But it’s a Catch 22. Because achieving peak happiness at anything in life requires sacrifice. And where one hopes to gain, one must also be willing to lose.
Working in nonprofits offers you an opportunity to help people. These are people you’ve never met, but people, who because of your work, will be living better lives at the end of the day because of your contributions to their cause. That is something worth fighting for. And for many who experience it, sacrificing excess salary and a corner office is a rewarding—if not freeing trade-off.
Start writing your nonprofit story.
Changing careers and becoming a nonprofit professional demands more than skillset. It demands learning how to apply your passion and values to a greater purpose.
Know your why.
Maybe, you feel driven to support a specific cause in your community. Or perhaps, you’re simply a writer who believes in using their pen to spread the word about a good cause.
Convey these personal aspirations. Specifically, how you see yourself contributing in the nonprofit sector. Aligning both your professional and personal stories genuinely with meaning—will make a powerful impression.
Hiring managers have a lot of candidates competing for their open roles. Speaking from the heart, and telling the story behind your personal brand, will help you resonate more deeply with the mission during the interview process.
Harnessing the power of story, helps you become more than just another resume.
Discover a community of possibilities.
Joining a community of knowledgable nonprofit professionals will give you the inside edge.
There are some insights that are difficult to discover if you aren’t surrounding yourself with the right people. People in communities like:
1. Nonprofit Facebook groups for job seekers, for which there are plenty!
2. For those in the early stages of their professional life: the Young NonProfit Professionals Network is based in 39 different cities around the country
3. Not to mention, a nonprofit staffing agency will provide you leads on new job opportunities 🧡
4. Finding affordable nonprofit workshops—can assist you with career planning, guidance and actionable advice
We’ve all heard people tell stories about how their big career break came through happen chance—introducing themselves, having something common, leading to more introductions and opportunities down the road.
Sometimes it’s true…
“It’s not what you know or who you know, it’s who knows you.”
Finding a mentor is a game changer.
Adventuring into a new career is like traveling a road with divergent paths. It feels good to have options. But how to know whether one should go left, or one should go right?
One of the smartest ways to answer this question is by having a mentor.
Mentoring is an opportunity for you to gain meaningful advice, support, and even build up your self-confidence. Because having someone to inform you, excite you, and help prepare you for what’s awaiting in your journey—can be the difference between losing hope, or summoning the courage to take the next step in your career.
All of us, at one time or another: whether it was growing up, playing athletics, or going through school; can remember a person who was instrumental in supporting and challenging ourselves to be our very best.
As you join your nonprofit communities and make new connections, ask yourself: “Who would I like to be like?” Just remember to keep it simple. Ask a potential mentor if they’re available to meet for coffee sometime (socially distanced of course 😷).
Then being respectful of their time, keep your meeting under an hour. This kind of self-awareness is always appreciated. From here, allow your relationship to evolve organically.
We know that starting a new career in nonprofits is a big change. However, through our 14 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, we believe that if you know it in your heart, that it’s the right decision for you, a beautifully rewarding career will be awaiting your arrival.
A career in nonprofits will give you the opportunity to make a real difference in your community, while improving the lives of those who inhabit it.
Our hope is that these 7 tips will empower you to begin your career in nonprofits in the most meaningful way possible.