How to Find a Job Working for a Nonprofit

Volunteer accepts canned food donation at food drive
••• Steve Debenport / Getty Images

It can take a special type of employee to work in the nonprofit sector. The hours are long, the pay isn't always competitive, and there are a lot of challenges to take on each and every day.

There are pluses as well as minuses, though, and a variety of paths to a successful career working for nonprofit organizations.

The Benefits of Working at a Nonprofit

Those who do work in nonprofit jobs enjoy the reward of knowing that their work is changing the world for the better. And, often, nonprofit positions provide good benefits along with the potential for career growth. 

At some nonprofits, pay may be similar to that of a private sector job. It depends on the organization and your role.

How to Begin Your Nonprofit Job Search 

The process of landing a nonprofit role is just as competitive as landing a role at a for-profit business. If you're interested in working in the nonprofit world, here are a few ideas to get you started on your job search: 

Start Volunteering 

To a nonprofit employer, your volunteer experience is a clear indication of the time and effort you're willing to put in to make a difference. If you don't have any volunteer experience, look for opportunities in your area and start volunteering as soon as possible.

If possible, volunteer with an organization that you'd like to work for full-time or volunteer within that industry. For instance, if you'd like to work at Teach For America, look for education-related volunteer opportunities. You'll find volunteering has many benefits in addition to adding experience to your resume.

If you do have volunteer experience, make sure you emphasize it in your cover letter and resume.

 Once you find a volunteer position that suits you, put your best foot forward. Take the initiative and ask for more work if you find yourself with downtime. Participate in community activities and fundraising events. Recruit other volunteers.

Go above and beyond to demonstrate your passion for the work.

This could lead to a job within the organization and will also garner you some good reference material when you start applying for jobs.

Generally, in terms of your volunteer work, quality is better than quantity. Being focused on one organization or type of volunteer activity is better than trying to join every volunteer group possible. 

 Instead of doing short stints at a variety of organizations, stick with one and try to work your way up. Doing this could even lead to a paid role, but regardless, a leadership position looks great on your resume as it demonstrates your drive and dedication to the company and the cause.

Present Yourself as a Well-Rounded Candidate

Although you should focus your volunteer efforts, try to develop a wide range of professional and personal skills too. For example, are you an English major who can speak Spanish? A top-notch communicator who also has some web design tricks up her sleeve? An accountant with a knack for digital photography?

 If you have any of these, or similar, skills, emphasize them in your cover letter. (Here's more information on how to incorporate keywords in your cover letter.)

Nonprofits don't always have the fattest of bank accounts—if anything, usually quite the opposite. Candidates who can wear many hats (and wear them well) are highly sought after, so show off your full skill set.

Consider an Internship

If you're a student or recent graduate or are in the midst of a career change, you might want to consider finding an internship at a nonprofit organization.

You'll gain valuable skills during an internship, learn how the nonprofit world operates, and pick up industry-specific lingo.

Plus, internships can have better-paid employment prospects than volunteering and can also involve more interesting work than volunteering. 

Look Online

In addition to the broad-scope job sites you should be using—in which you can search for "nonprofit jobs"—you can check out job search sites specifically created for nonprofit job listings. Take a look at Idealist and the career center at the Nonprofit Times.

Check Nonprofits' Career Websites for Job Openings

Many nonprofits list employment opportunities on their own websites, which you can usually find on a "Careers" or "Get Involved" page.

Applying directly is a good way to show that you're staying updated with the organization via their online presence. In addition to checking a nonprofit's website, it can be a good idea to follow the organization on LinkedIn and on social media. 

Build Your Network

As with any job search, having connections can help you land informational interviews, connect with hiring managers, and potentially learn about roles before they are posted.

Be strategic as you build your network: attend nonprofit networking events, job fairs, and events organized by nonprofits you'd like to work for. Another strategy is to reach out to people on LinkedIn who work at nonprofits and ask them for informational interviews

Start Local

Many large nonprofits have smaller, regional offices that might be good places to start out. For example, if you're interested in working with Planned Parenthood, for example, applying for a volunteer position or a job at their center in your local area is a good stepping stone if you don't have prior experience working at a nonprofit.

Make Sure Your Application Materials Are Stellar

As with any role, it's always important to make sure your cover letter is compelling and typo-free, your resume is flawless, and that you are properly prepared for your interview.

Since nonprofits are mission-driven (as opposed to profit-driven), it's particularly important to have a thorough understanding of the organization's goals.

You'll want to spend a significant amount of time on the nonprofit's website and social media in advance of the interview, and make sure that you are well-versed in the issue the nonprofit focuses on. 

Article Sources

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nonprofit Pay and Benefits." Accessed Jan. 14, 2020.

  2. HelpGuide. "Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits." Accessed Jan. 14, 2020.

  3. Stanford Social Innovation Review. "Mission Matters Most." Accessed Jan. 14, 2020.