Find Your “Fit” in the Non-Profit World
My latest from ProfessionalGal, featuring a picture of a cat in a box.
When you start your nonprofit job search, you are likely looking for 1) a job description for which you are qualified and 2) a mission that really speaks to you. However, you should also make sure that you are picking the type of organization that will allow you to have the kind of experience you want. Especially if you are new to the non-profit world, it might be difficult to figure that out. I thought I’d help you out by outlining a few different kinds of non-profits and what you can expect when you work for them.
Just a reminder: Every organization is its own special snowflake with its own special culture. So take my descriptions with a grain of salt—they are guidelines, not definitions.
What you want: To help people.
What you’ll get: A fairly informal office with clients coming in all day. Depending on the clients, this may make things rowdy, and you may need to put out (literal and figurative) fires throughout the day.
How to know: The position will likely emphasize communication skills and the ability to get along with lots of different kinds of people. They may also prioritize hiring people from their community (e.g. survivors of domestic violence, African-American men, or residents of a certain neighborhood).
Positions available: Development staff with a focus on government grants. Social worker/medical doctor/counselor. Don’t expect a lot of administrative openings, although there may be finance or inventory staff to support government grants.
You’ll love this if: You love the stimulation of being around people all day.
What you want: To make lasting change.
What you’ll get: A fast-paced office that speaks in code about politicians, upcoming legislation, and government bodies. Basically, House of Cards without the corruption.
How to know: “Law” or “Policy” will likely be in the organization’s name. The board and staff list may include people with political and governmental backgrounds.
Positions available: Staff Attorney, Policy Analyst, Researcher. Development staff with a focus on foundations.
You’ll love this if: You love a good fight.
What you want: To redistribute money and power.
What you’ll get: A relatively comfortable office with really smart co-workers. If you are a Program Officer, expect everyone you meet at a networking event to know your name and want to talk to you.
How to know: There are organizations that use “fund” or “foundation” in their name, but are not actually grant-making organizations. If the organization makes grants, their description will mention forging partnerships and measuring outcomes.
Positions available: Some foundations raise money and give it away, which means that there may be some fundraising positions open, particularly for Major Gifts Officers or Individual Giving Managers. More frequently, you will see Program Officer or Program Associate positions, which require an academic or professional background in a certain subject matter. Foundations also tend to have a few more administrative positions open, particularly for Grants Managers, who usually take care of the paperwork and reporting requirements from grantees.
You’ll love this if: You want to know a lot about a field of work.
What you want: To make a difference at the macro level.
What you’ll get: A decent office with co-workers who wear suits; slightly better than average benefits and pay; co-workers who may have moved between corporations and non-profits
How to know: You will very likely know the name of this organization and the names of people in leadership roles—e.g. Clinton Global Initiative, Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity.
Positions available: Multiple social media and marketing positions, major gifts officers, precise administrative positions (e.g. Payroll Manager rather than HR Manager), project leads for big projects like a well-known conference or event (e.g. Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, AIDSWalk)
You’ll love this if: You want to stay in one organization and learn the ropes as you get promoted.
What you want: To feel like you are making a difference every day.
What you’ll get: A chaotic and informal work environment. Expect swearing, sandals, and long nights.
How to know: The emphasis in the job listing will be on flexibility. They might be looking for a fundraising manager who will also need to know about program planning or accounting. If you’re an office manager or assistant, expect to do everything.
Positions available: Think general titles, like Executive Director, Development Manager, Program Manager, and Office Manager. There won’t be a lot of hierarchy and likely only a very small team.
You’ll love this if: You love not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
Don’t feel like you need to restrict yourself to one kind of office ‘type’—I’ve worked at all different kinds of organizations. Some fit better than others at different times of your life. Experiment a little, and you’ll see what you like best!