Transitioning To The Nonprofit Sector: 7 Career Tips From 7 Insiders On How To Make The Change

Finding Jobs With Purpose

As the tide begins to turn, the younger workforce is demanding more purposeful careers in organizations that have a social impact and contribute to a greater cause. In light of this shift, many are turning towards the most obvious answer to do good: the nonprofit sector. But making the jump from the corporate world into a 501(c)(3) can be daunting—especially when competing against those with seemingly years of charitable bona fides, international volunteer experience, and degrees in public policy.

Luckily, the nonprofit industry is always looking for the right talent. Here, seven individuals who have made the switch share their insider’s perspective of things to keep in mind during the job hunt.


Esther Ng
Americorps VISTA at Veggielution

Nonprofits tend to hire from their existing network, so if you are interested in getting into the nonprofit sector, a great way to get connected is to volunteer.
— Esther Ng

Nonprofits tend to hire from their existing network, so if you are interested in getting into the nonprofit sector, a great way to get connected is to volunteer. If you can sustainably commit to the organization as part time or more, you can learn more about how the organization, staff team, and community work together. Volunteering also allows you to see if your values align with the organizations mission. It's especially vital in the nonprofit sector to believe in the mission and vision to keep you going through the challenges of nonprofit life.


Alexander Lowry
Previous Deputy COO at JPMorgan Chase Foundation

Candidates will need to be able to succinctly and clearly demonstrate why this role, organization or industry is a direct fit for their goals.
— Alexander Lowry

One of the key differentiators for a candidate applying for a nonprofit job is an emphasis on passion for the cause. Candidates will need to be able to succinctly and clearly demonstrate why this role, organization or industry is a direct fit for their goals. Hiring managers will want to know you have a deep desire to focus on this space. Since the paycheck isn’t what keeps an employee in a nonprofit job, the hiring manager will want to know your drivers for seeking the position.


Jamy Drapeza
NYC Program Manager at S.O.U.L. Sisters Leadership Collective

Expressing your interest in moving within the company and not necessarily up would show you’re here to stay and to serve in capacities that overall benefit the organization.
— Jamy Drapeza

Depending on the size of the nonprofit, there usually is an "all hands on deck" culture around supporting development and direct service. Jumping between departments is also common as a matter of fit: again, most nonprofits are physically small, so it comes with the work to end up learning more about other departments. Expressing your interest in moving within the company and not necessarily up would show you're here to stay and to serve in capacities that overall benefit the organization if they're supporting your growth as an all-around asset.


Kristin Caliendo
International Recruitment Specialist at Food for the Hungry

The idea of working for a nonprofit is centered around the belief that at the heart of the work, an individual is using his or her gifts and talents to improve the lives of others...We’re hiring for the heart.
— Kristin Caliendo

If you have kicked around the idea of departing from the corporate environment, the growing sector of careers in the nonprofit space is a great idea for all types of people being called to make a positive impact in the world, from the recent grad to the well-seasoned and experienced business leaders seeking personal fulfillment in their work. The idea of working for a nonprofit is centered around the belief that at the heart of the work, an individual is using his or her gifts and talents to improve the lives of others. It's a passion to serve, and at Food for the Hungry, every staff member truly lives out the organization's values, vision and purpose to respond to human suffering and graduate communities from extreme poverty. We're hiring for the heart.

You'd be surprised to see that nonprofits are much like for-profit companies in the respect that we too follow business models, create strategic plans and hire similar jobs such as IT, Accounting, Marketing, Finance and the like. Non-profits such as FH invest wisely and focus on results—which at the core of achieving those results, involves a combination of hiring the best talent with relevant skill sets, and who are relational, humble and align with our organization's vision.


Belinda Chiu
Associate, Youth Engagement at Women Deliver

Approach each networking opportunity with the goal of learning, rather than just finding a job, and you’re bound to make some genuine connections.
— Belinda Chiu

I am fortunate to work for Women Deliver, a leading global advocacy organization for gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. As you’re looking to transition to the nonprofit sector, a good piece of advice would be to network and conduct informational interviews with individuals who work in your areas of interest. People who work in the nonprofit sector genuinely care about what they do and would be happy to talk to others who share their passion! Approach each networking opportunity with the goal of learning, rather than just finding a job, and you’re bound to make some genuine connections.


Jeb Banner
Co-Founder of The Speak Easy, CEO at Boardable

When applying to work at a nonprofit, they will look closely for relevant experience. One way to get that, before you land a nonprofit job, is to serve on a board.
— Jeb Banner

When applying to work at a nonprofit, they will look closely for relevant experience. One way to get that, before you land a nonprofit job, is to serve on a board. Board service is a great way to give back while building your network and resume. If you are just starting out, look for young professional boards (YPs for short). They are usually easier to break into and can be a great launchpad for other board, volunteer, and employment opportunities. With nonprofits, there is always a way to get involved right now, just show up and help out as a volunteer. Doing that will demonstrate your talents in a tangible way that will help you stick out when a role opens up.


Frank Grossman
Previous Reports Writer at the U.S. Government Accountability Office

Unlike in the private sector, HR cannot elect to ignore requirements and interview or hire you anyway for civil service jobs. They are required to bend over backwards to be fair.
— Frank Grossman

With regard to federal government positions, my best advice is read the job posting carefully. Is the job open to the public? What are the requirements? Do you need a specific degree, specific coursework or at least a certain GPA? What documents must be submitted with the application? What is the deadline? Unlike in the private sector, HR cannot elect to ignore requirements and interview or hire you anyway for civil service jobs. They are required to bend over backwards to be fair.


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Alice Zhang is a California-based writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman’s experience, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she recently spent a year abroad in Peru working with a microfinance project. You can follow her latest creative endeavors and musings at Mine Felicity or on Instagram at @alice.zhng.