How to Love Your Nonprofit Career

In the nonprofit world, we get a kick out of learning things.

If it were feasible, many of us would devote a large section of our day to educating ourselves on subjects that could improve our organizations. We’d binge all day on blog articles about fundraising, finding donors and how to run effective board meetings.

But even when we do have the opportunity to spend time further educating ourselves, we neglect one of the most important things to invest in: our nonprofit careers.

Whether you’re a nonprofit oldtimer, just began working for a nonprofit or you are looking to break into the sector, it’s important to know the best ways to maximize your nonprofit career and invest in yourself.

Here are some strategies for feeling the love in your nonprofit career:

Become an EXPERT:

An important step to moving up in your nonprofit career is developing expertise. You don’t need a fancy degree or impressive accolades to be an expert. It’s all about picking yourself, instead of waiting for someone else to select you for greatness.

1. First, knock your job out of the park. This should be obvious, but it’s actually an art to both do your job excellently and demonstrate that value to your superiors.

2. Then, go above and beyond expectations. Volunteer. Help out those in other departments, and get involved in things that aren’t “your work,” but to which you could helpfully contribute.

3. Get closer to the money. The closer you are to directly bringing in revenue for your organization, the more valuable you will be. Learn how you can contribute to fundraising, even if it’s not your job title. Ask your development director to write a grant proposal. The development director will be ecstatic–plus you’ll be able to develop a new skill and have a chance to shine.

Develop Your NETWORK:

It doesn’t matter if you think of yourself as an introvert or an extrovert: as a nonprofit professional, strength comes in connecting with people.

Those with strong networks are better able to find their nonprofit dream job–or quickly discover a new gig when their previous position expires. They know how to make personalized, specific asks of major donors–and succeed. Being able to connect with people separates the wheat from the chaff.

Networking isn’t just about business cards and working a room–it’s about creating personal connections, and solving other people’s problems.

When you talk to someone, always think first:

  • How can I help this person?
  • How can I connect with them and solve with their problems?
  • Am I being genuinely interested in this person? (This changes everything)

One of the best ways to network is through informational interviews. Find your aspirational contacts (those with successful nonprofit careers) and take them out to coffee, lunch or for a drink. Pick their brain for their best advice. Listen to them and then follow up to show that you actually followed their advice (trust us–this will distinguish you).

Never close yourself off. A network is vital both to find new opportunities, but also simply as a network of support–something you can lean and depend on when you need wisdom, comfort or a simple word of encouragement.

Build a Strong PERSONAL BRAND:

Your personal brand is your professional reputation. It’s what people think of when someone says your name.

If I called your professional references, what would they say about you? That’s your brand.

Suffice to say, it’s important to cultivate your personal brand to match your nonprofit aspirations.

The classic advice to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is a statement about personal branding. What do you communicate to others every day about yourself? What does your online presence  tell others about who you are, and what you hope to become?

The most important first step: Figure out your personal goals.

  • What’s your endgame?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • Get specific. Specificity helps you define your personal brand and move toward becoming that future self.

Craft your social media presence around your newly defined goals. Get a LinkedIn profile, at minimum, to create an online resume and connect with other like-minded nonprofit professionals.

Having a strong personal brand also helps your networking efforts. If your friends and associates all know you’re looking to become involved with a certain nonprofit organization, they’ll think of you when a relevant opportunity shows up on their radar!

What specific problems do you have developing your nonprofit career? Tell us and we’ll brainstorm solutions with you.


Marc Koenig

Marc Koenig is a regular contributor of Nonprofit Hub. Marc believes smart, ethical marketing can make the world a better place, and strives to create content that helps nonprofits tell better stories, push their organizations to excel and do work that matters. You'll find him writing Nonprofit Hub featured posts, brainstorming infographics and tweeting up a storm at @npmarc - follow him and say hi!

February 14, 2013

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