Nonprofit Job Search Tips

Dear Dr. Civitelli,

I am interested in landing a job at a nonprofit and I am wondering if you can share any nonprofit job search tips with me. How do people find employment at a nonprofit organization?

Nonprofit Job Seeker

Nonprofit Job Search

Dear Nonprofit Job Seeker,

To answer your question, I asked Steven Atamian for some nonprofit job search advice. Atamian is Co-Founder of Global Brigades, Inc., Co-Founder of, and a member of the advisory board of the Certificate Program in Nonprofit Management at the University of Washington.

Here are tips gained from my interview with Atamian:

– The majority of nonprofit job opportunities are built out of relationships with volunteers who have demonstrated impact. This limits the number of outside hires. The advantage of volunteering with an organization first is that you not only build relationships, you get a sense of the culture of the organization to see if it’s the right fit.

– In some cases, jobs at a nonprofit organization are actually created by the innovation and dedication of volunteers. In the early days of hiring at Global Brigades, hiring was done around people rather than positions. Candidates were asked, “What are you passionate about and how can you leverage Global Brigades to manifest your passion into meaningful social impact?”

– Outside hiring happens more often for highly technical roles, often by advertising on via a formal interview process. (Note from The top 5 recruitment sources for nonprofit organizations in 2013 were Craigslist, LinkedIn,,, and Facebook.)

– There are opportunity costs involved in working with nonprofits instead of for-profit companies, so it is important to figure out as much as possible what the real deal is with a role so that you are not left feeling entitled and unsatisfied.

– If you are already working at a for-profit company that is doing projects related to corporate social responsibility or in partnership with a nonprofit to achieve mutual goals, the way people often get staffed on those projects is to raise their hands and volunteer. Over time, if high levels of unique value are shown and a business case is made, more permanent hires might be made.

– Atamian says, “The reality is that it is a rare opportunity in this world to be paid to apply your skills to help others. If you truly want to dedicate your life to that, you are going to have to make sacrifices to compete with all the others who want the same thing.”

– In the nonprofit world, you have to be just as qualified at your specialty (whether writing or raising money or general program management) as you would have to be in the for-profit world, only maybe you need to be even more qualified in order to keep up with the complexities of satisfying multiple stake-holders (board members, clients/beneficiaries, staff, environment, etc).

– The only thing weighed greater than professional expertise is the strength of the network (contacts/relationships) that you can bring in addition to yourself. In the nonprofit world, it is rare for people to have the same urgency for networking and relationship building that people in the for-profit world have so if someone does have this, they are at a competitive advantage to be hired. This is probably why there is such a high demand for “development directors” and why they are typically hired from the outside.

– This is a good article for more ideas: Making a Difference Through Volunteering and Nonprofit Careers.

Have you landed a job at a nonprofit? If so, please share your job search success story below.

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