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5 Tips to Nab that First Nonprofit Job

“I want to change the world.”

Perhaps you’ve heard the little voice cooing in your head before. Maybe it grew louder when you first took that alternative spring break trip to El Salvador in college, more pronounced after you signed up to organize a benefit walk for a friend with a rare disease.

That voice should be anything but ignored. In an age in which, according to the New York Times, 11 percent of young professionals and college graduates—more than ever before—are breaking into the arena of social change, you too can find a way to mix your passion with your paycheck and land a nonprofit job. Here are five easy steps to make it happen.

1. Playing Dora: Exploring the Nonprofit Sector

Pop those stereotypical “nonprofit” bubbles of preachy do-gooders reading to the elderly. The nonprofit sector is a booming field that needs just as many creative, out-of-the-box individuals as its corporate cousins. Nonprofits have the dual burden of needing to raise funds and to rally community support to be truly successful, and many bright minds and fascinating people are already working to do just that.

The first “must” for a new professional is understand the basics of the sector. Before diving head-first into the job market, know the differences in missions and goals that nonprofits have, and the differences in the salaries, retirement plans, and advancement opportunities they have to offer you.

2. Shake Hands with the World Shakers: Network with the Ones Who Know the Sector

There is a “pro” in professional for a reason. In the nonprofit sector, as in any other field or career, it’s important to capitalize upon the know-how of those above you. Before how-to books and seminars, tap into professionals from the field. Honest opinions and seasoned advice? Please and thank you!

Use networking sites like LinkedIn or to connect with young professionals who have worked in the field for a few years. Ask to speak by phone or meet up for coffee to pick their brains about their work. You’ll find most of them more than happy to share their experiences.

3. Lending a Hand: Gain Valuable Volunteering Experience

For some reason, as we rack up those high school and college diplomas, volunteering seems to suddenly fall out of the picture.

But you don’t have to move to another country or even volunteer full-time to get your feet wet. A part-time, local volunteer experience will demonstrate your dedication to being part of an organization that works for a cause, plus give you a first-hand look at what the nonprofit field is really all about.

Volunteering will also help you to rake in skills and experience that you can use to land your first nonprofit job. You’ll gain hands-on problem-solving experience and learn about social issues up close.

4. Mission Possible: Aligning Mission Statements

So you really want a job in the nonprofit world? When you begin your job hunt, first and foremost, make your own mission statement. You cannot work in a field that thrives on impact without first knowing the impact you want to make.

Then, look for nonprofits that share your mission. Finding organizations that align with your personal passions will help you land a job that really does fulfill you on a deeper level—which is probably what drew you to nonprofit work in the first place.

Next, identify your skills and strengths, and search for an organization in need of them. Guaranteed: they’re out there.

5. Pitter, Patter: Know the Heartbeat of The Organization

There are over one million nonprofit organizations in North America alone—and just one Google search is bound to give you a few thousand hits.

From immigration to HIV, from conducting research to influencing policy to organizing activists, every organization has a pulse and a drive. When it comes time to send our your résumé and interview, you absolutely need to know what motivates your potential new bosses before you take your first step through their door.

Know the essential “W”s: the Who, What, and Whys of the organization you are vying to work for. What does your organization do? Whom do they serve? Why are they driven by this issue? And let’s throw in a “How” for good balance: How do they go about creating sustainable social change on a daily basis? Even once you’ve identified your cause, there are many approaches an organization might be taking to tackle it—from hands-on field work to lobbying, from publishing white papers to spreading grass-roots movements. And it’s worth your time to think about where you’ll want to be.

Only do I know from experience, that little voice that will only get louder. If you are itching to "be a part of the solution" or if international development makes your heart pound, then get out there and start exploring. Pick up your passion in one hand, your resume in the other, and find a job to wrap your arms around that'll let you be that change you’ve been hoping to see in the world all along.

Photo courtesy of Rob Boudon.