You’re a do-gooder, a big-hearted advocate, a community-driven activist. You're passionate about making your world better, and you think a career in the nonprofit space is the best way to accomplish that. Only problem is, you have no experience.
No problem -- let us walk you through breaking into the nonprofit world.
First, understand the structure of nonprofits, and what nonprofit jobs are entry-level.
Just like for-profit space, nonprofits have a number of departments that range from business support functions to fundraising to program management and outreach. As you ponder making a move into the space, consider what kind of work you’d like to do. Want to be on the frontlines of community organizing? Look for entry-level positions in the field. Love the idea of raising money for a cause? Look for positions in development departments. Passionate about helping a nonprofit run smoothly? Human resources or operations may be the space for you. Want to put your social media skills to work for good? Marketing and communications might be your department. Do some research on the organizations that interest you to understand what kinds of roles are common, and then figure out where you might fit.
The good news is, many nonprofits, especially larger nonprofits, hire entry-level positions in all of those functions -- look for roles like administrative assistants, data-entry, junior communications, and junior development associates to get your foot in the door.
If you’re looking to make a lateral move from the for-profit space into the nonprofit world, consider what function aligns best with your experience, and get ready to make the case that your experience and perspective will bolster the organization.
Next, understand what assets nonprofits prize:
Save for the largest players in the space, nonprofits usually run on a tight budget and with few staffers, which means there’s a good chance you’ll be called on to support activities outside of your job description, whether that’s fundraising, events, or community engagement. Draw attention to your ability and eagerness to learn new things in your cover letter, and get ready to answer questions about your nimbleness in the interview.
2. Team player
Because you’re likely to be called on to assist with duties outside of your function, nonprofits will likely gauge how well you can work with a team. Any past experience that shows you’re a team player is worth noting on your resume, and prepare to demonstrate this quality as you move through the hiring process.
3. Commitment to the mission
Talk to nonprofiteers about what they like about their jobs, and you’ll usually hear about their passion for the mission first. And chances are good you’re considering the field because there’s an issue that drives you. Be ready to speak to that passion in an interview -- and highlight it in your cover letter, or by calling out volunteer work or jobs you’ve done in the past: tutoring kids could highlight your passion for literacy and education, volunteering at a soup kitchen might showcase your commitment to combating homelessness or advocating for mental health, and dog-walking might show real commitment to animal rights.
Now, land the job.
One of the best ways to learn about the organizations in the nonprofit space is to request informational interviews with employees of those organizations. Work contacts of your friends and family, and reach out to current staffers who work in a function in which your interested at an organization about which your passionate. Open the conversation by telling them what kind of role you’re hoping to secure, and ask them how they broke into the field.
Have your heart set on working with a particular nonprofit? Volunteer with the organization. This gives you a chance to get to know the staff and the work, and gives you first access to news about job postings. Since most nonprofits rely on a lot of volunteer labor to carry out their programs, you’ll also likely get valuable experience for your resume.
If you’re still in school or just out, landing an internship with a nonprofit is a good way to get experience on your resume, and get your foot in the door of organizations you like. Don’t be afraid to network your way to an internship, even if an organization hasn’t posted a position -- especially if you can work for school credit. nonprofits are often more than happy to oblige.
Look for entry-level jobs.
Whether you’re looking for your first job or are making a career change, starting in an entry-level position can be a good way to prove your passion for a cause. Head to localwise.com and search for entry-level nonprofit jobs.
Consider temporary or contract gigs.
Some nonprofits hire positions with a shelf-life of a year or so -- these may be tied to specific grants, or they could be fellowship or field positions that turnover every year (think of roles like AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps). These jobs are a good way to get your feet wet in the issue space that captivates you, and to gain practical on-the-ground experience. And they set you up for more jobs in the sphere.