5 Tips to Get a Nonprofit Job Now

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By Nancy Collamar

Here's some welcome news if you're eager to find work that blends purpose and a paycheck: 2015 is shaping up as a banner year for hiring at nonprofits.

According to the 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices survey released today by Nonprofit HR, a human resources consulting firm, 50 percent of the 362 nonprofits it queried anticipate creating new positions in the coming year.

The upward trend continues the post-recession nonprofit hiring resurgence of last year. In 2014, 49 percent of Nonprofit HR respondents said they planned to create new positions, up markedly from just 19 percent in 2009.

Adding Jobs and Avoiding Layoffs

This hiring boom is especially impressive compared to the corporate world. Just 36 percent of businesses plan to hire full-time staffers this year, according to a recent Careerbuilder survey.

As the economy continues gaining steam, nonprofits are not only adding jobs, they're also avoiding layoffs: only 7 percent expect to trim positions this year, the Nonprofit HR survey found.

"This is really encouraging news," Lisa Brown Morton, President and CEO of Nonprofit HR, told me. "The nonprofit sector is a huge, but often overlooked, economic powerhouse."

Huge indeed: Nonprofits employ 10.7 million people (over 10 percent of the U.S. workforce) in a wide swath of fields, including health care, social assistance, faith-based and civic organizations.

(MORE: Mistakes to Avoid When Looking for a Nonprofit Job)

Highlights From the Survey

A few key takeaways from the new NonprofitHR hiring survey:
  • Hiring is predicted to be strong across all sectors, but especially robust among public/social benefit, health, human services and environmental/animal groups.
  • While few nonprofits plan to eliminate positions, the ones that might are primarily in the international/foreign affairs and religious/faith-based sectors (14 percent and 16 percent of them plan to, respectively).
  • The strongest job growth will be in direct services (people who work directly with the public, such as counselors, social workers, intake coordinators, etc.), followed by program management, fundraising/development and education/community outreach.
  • Telecommuting is increasingly commonplace among nonprofits. Close to half (43 percent) reported having a telecommuting policy.
  • But there's a bit of bad news for senior-level people wanting to hop from a for-profit job to a nonprofit. Most nonprofits will recruit senior-level managers from other nonprofits.

5 Tips to Get a Nonprofit Job

To help boost your chances of getting hired by a nonprofit, I asked Brown Morton to share her job search advice. Here are five of her top tips:

1. Research groups that match your passions and values. Nonprofits are looking for people who are mission-aligned, so it's important to seek out ones that speak to you. Once you identify a few good matches, make the time to understand each of the organization's mission, stakeholders and culture to ensure you'll be a good fit. Read the nonprofits' websites and spend time at their events to gain a clear understanding of their priorities and goals.

2. Get involved at a nonprofit to gain an edge over the competition. Establish an active presence - volunteer, participate in events and, when possible, attend donor functions. This will increase your visibility among key decisionmakers and give you a chance to really get to know the organization. Being able to show your commitment to the cause throughout the job-search process is one of the best ways to set you apart from the crowd.

3. Broaden your chances of getting hired by saying you're open to project work that's part-time or has an end date. Brown Morton says she sees a lot of experienced professionals working as paid or pro bono nonprofit consultants. They also take on mentoring roles to help shape and mold emerging leaders.

4. Don't assume you need to take a vow of poverty to work for a nonprofit. Although 27 percent of nonprofits surveyed said their inability to pay competitively was their greatest retention challenge, certain jobs pay better than others.

In general, ones involving money (finance, operations, fundraising/development), especially with larger organizations, are more highly compensated. And people with strong skills sets are in higher demand. "Basically, the more technical the skill level, the higher the pay scale," said Brown Morton.

Location can make a difference, too. In major markets where talent is at a premium, you'll stand a better chance of being paid competitively.

5. Tweak your job-search tactics. Unlike corporations, few nonprofits have formal recruitment strategies. So you'll need to adapt your job-hunting strategies when targeting this sector.

Networking is especially important. In the survey, 91 percent of nonprofits said "using a network of friends and colleagues" was one of their primary recruiting sources. So do what you can to tap into your networks, both online and in person, to identify nonprofit connections. And don't forget to build new connections by ramping up your participation in nonprofit events.

Few nonprofits use computerized applicant tracking systems to screen applicants, the ways corporations do, so make sure your resumé is human-friendly (what a charming concept!). This means, rather than worrying over populating your resumé with keywords to match a job description, focus on formatting, grammar and a readable font size. Be sure, also, to emphasize your volunteer work and experience in your resumé and cover letter.

Nonprofits are only slowly turning to social media for recruitment (just 28 percent report having an active social media recruitment in place). But of those that embrace social media, LinkedIn is the most popular site, followed by Facebook and Twitter.

So spend most of your social media time networking on LinkedIn, looking for connections there and sharing articles about nonprofit events and news on your LinkedIn home feed.

"Chances are great that you'll find something that speaks to you," says Brown Morton. "Don't underestimate what is available."
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