Everything You Should Know About Working for a Nonprofit

Updated June 24, 2022

If you're interested in working for a nonprofit organization, you likely have many questions about the logistics. Though everyone's path to nonprofit work is different, there are a few key details to consider.

In this article, we'll explain the importance of nonprofit work, list some tips for working at a nonprofit and give you some pointers on how to find a job at a nonprofit organization.

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Why is working for a nonprofit important?

When working for a nonprofit, the work you're doing is meaningful. Instead of working to grow a company, you're working to make a difference. The absence of a marketable product or service means that nonprofits rely on volunteers and employees to carry out their mission. The work can be difficult, but invaluable. There is little more rewarding than knowing that you are changing the world for the better.

Related: How To Find Your Passion

Tips for working at a nonprofit

  • Take care of yourself.

  • Be prepared for really tough days.

  • Remember the big picture.

  • Get ready to grow.

  • Learn to multitask.

1. Take care of yourself

Many nonprofits struggle with maintaining resources, so the employees are often asked to handle a lot of tasks and long hours. Being under-resourced typically means that employees can get experience in multiple areas, but it can also lead to frustration and job dissatisfaction. Remember to spend your free time replenishing your metaphorical resources.

Use your time outside of work to focus on rest and rejuvenation. This work is important and your job has meaning, but you can only be effective if you can maintain a positive energy.

2. Be prepared for really tough days

As with any occupation, some days are more difficult than others. However, nonprofit work can mean that those tough days are a little more serious, depending on the focus of the organization. The stakes are higher at a nonprofit and you're more invested in the work, so when someone you're helping expresses dissatisfaction, it can feel devastating.

Adversely, the good days can be amazing. All the aspects of the job that make difficult days feel unbearable, make small successes renew your hope and belief that you are in fact making a difference.

3. Remember the big picture

Your days will likely be consumed with fundraising efforts, recruiting volunteers and solving issues. It's easy to lose sight of the good you're doing.

Whether someone comes to you personally to thank you for your contribution, or an individual expresses their gratitude for the positive impact that the organization has made on their life, there will be little reminders that your efforts matter. Regardless, remember to take some time to step back. You'll quickly realize that you are making a huge difference.

4. Get ready to grow

A lack of resources can mean that one person handles several job functions. The experience of working for a nonprofit usually means that an individual has a lengthy job description and can learn new skills quickly. This often means that nonprofits have an expedited career development.

Though your skill set will grow, the experience will probably have an even bigger effect you personally. Finding value in your organization and your role in it will benefit your personal development.

5. Learn to multitask

As we mentioned before, fewer resources mean more job roles, so it's important that employees of a nonprofit learn to multitask. You'll likely be asked to handle several tasks in varying areas of the nonprofit simultaneously, and often. Though this can lead to frustration, it's also a great way to ensure that you always find your work interesting and challenging.

Related: How to Balance a Fast-Paced Work Environment

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How to get hired at a nonprofit

  1. Volunteer.

  2. Present yourself as well-rounded.

  3. Intern.

  4. Start local.

  5. Look online.

1. Volunteer

If you're looking to gain employment within a nonprofit organization, volunteering is a good place to start. Most nonprofit employers will pay special attention to your volunteer efforts, as they indicate how committed the candidate is to making a difference. Be sure to mention your experiences volunteering in both your cover letter and on your resume.

Volunteering can also be a great way to find job opportunities in the nonprofit sector. While volunteering, be sure to take initiative and ask for more work if you finish your assignments. Get involved with fundraisers and community events and help recruit more volunteers. Whether the organization you're volunteering with offers you a position or they provide a stellar reference, lending a helping hand can help you get hired at a nonprofit.

Though more volunteer experience is beneficial, try to avoid skipping around to different organizations. Focusing your efforts on one organization or type of activity will show that you are dedicated to a cause. The organization that you're helping will recognize your commitment, which may lead to a paid position.

Related: Guide To Listing Volunteer Work on a Resume (With Example)

2. Present yourself as well-rounded

Nonprofit organizations are typically functioning within tight budgets, so individuals with a wide range of skills are especially sought after. For example, are you a copywriter skilled at graphic design as well? Are you multi-lingual? Are you an accountant that is also a talented photographer?

Develop your personal and professional skills and highlight them in your resume and cover letter.

3. Intern

Interning at a nonprofit organization is a great way to gain valuable experience in the field. As with volunteering, the experience could lead to a paid position, and the work will likely be more interesting than what you'd be tasked with as a volunteer.

Related: How To Find the Best Jobs for You

4. Start local

Large nonprofits often have smaller, regional offices. Consider approaching your local branch of a larger nonprofit first. This will allow you to gain experience as well as entry into the organization, making it easier to progress to a higher, national position in the future.

5. Look online

If you're interested in finding job opportunities within a nonprofit organization, the best place to start is on the organization's website. Spend some time researching the nonprofit and make sure that their mission aligns with your passions and values. Any available job openings will usually be listed under a "Careers" or "Get Involved" section.

Regardless of whether you apply directly through the site, researching the organization is a crucial step for ensuring that you find a position and place perfect for you.

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