Blog: Jerry Lindman

Professor Jerry Lindman wants Metro Detroiters to consider nonprofit management as a viable career option. As the Director for the Center for Nonprofit Management at Lawrence Tech, he has a deep understanding of the professional opportunities they offer. Guess what he'll be writing about.

Jerry Lindman - Post 3: The Nonprofit Job Search

Once a person decides to actively pursue a nonprofit job, their next step is to develop an effective job search strategy. Similar to any professional job search, there are some distinctive activities to consider which can help when pursuing a nonprofit job particularly when crating your resume, developing your network and how business skills and experience are presented to nonprofit employers. The additional advantage to the job search process is that it helps people better understand their level of interest in a career with a nonprofit organization.

As with any job search, fashioning an effective resume is an important first step.

Your resume should be written so that it identifies your most relevant qualifications for nonprofit management. Remember to focus on accomplishments that demonstrate your skill and abilities.  That is why I recommend a functional format to a resume rather than a chronological format. Especially for persons new to the nonprofit sector, this will highlight transferable skills and demonstrate an appreciation for the uniqueness of skill set of a nonprofit manager.

The vast majority of nonprofit organizations are small. As reported by Independent Sector in 20071, "More than 73 percent of reporting public charities reported annual expenses of less than $500,000 in 2005. Less than 4 percent of reporting public charities had expenses greater than $10 million."
Therefore, your resume should demonstrate diverse management skills and abilities related to several of the core nonprofit management functions listed below.

As you design your skilled based resume, consider that most nonprofits are small and managers are charged with multiple management functions. Therefore, demonstrating multiple management skill sets is valuable to nonprofit employers. The following list of core nonprofit management competencies may be helpful in categorizing your skill sets: 

  • Fund development – Systematic seeking and securing of charitable contributions and grants using a wide range of proven strategies.
  • Governance – Collaborative and effective work relations between the CEO and the board of directors.
  • Nonprofit financial management – Management of revenues from grants, charitable contributions, and earned income. Keep in mind, nonprofits commonly view their success based on dual bottom-lines of mission achievement and financial sustainability.
  • Program assessment – Program success is a key success factor for a mission-based organization.
  • Human resource and volunteer management – Volunteers are an essential resource for any successful nonprofit and need to be uniquely managed.
  • Public policy activities – Lobbying and advocacy directed to elected and government officials to improve government policies and funding on behalf of the nonprofit mission. 

Throughout the job search process, keep in mind the 'mission-focus' of the nonprofit sector and its organizations. Though financial sustainability is vitally important, the key primary focus for nonprofits is the success of achieving the mission. Keeping this clearly in mind will help you present your business experience and education in the most convincing light.

When you craft your cover letter, keep in mind its main purpose is not to get the job but to get the interview. Always highlight your key accomplishments that closely match the employers specific needs identified in the job description.

Networking Techniques

As with most job searches, the majority of job openings are never advertised or publicly announced, filled through word-of-mouth or networking. Consider these networking techniques for your nonprofit job search:

Translate work experience to nonprofit job types with nonprofit education and training

  • Education that addresses critical nonprofit management functions like fundraising, volunteer and HR management, financial management, program assessment.
  • Consider shorter nonprofit certificate programs if you already have a graduate degree. For example, the College of Management at Lawrence Technological University offers a 36 credit MBA with concentration in nonprofit management but also offers a 12 credit graduate certificate in nonprofit managent and leadership which is very attractive to experienced business and government professionals who already have a masters degree but don’t have education in core nonprofit management competencies. Such a short graduate certificate also helps translate your work experience to the mission-based organization.
  • Volunteer strategically; work on project which utilize your past experience and skills; work directly for a nonprofit CEO or executive who has influence in hiring decisions.
  • Volunteer to serve on a board of directors. It's a great way to immerse yourself in nonprofit management and allows you to network with nonprofit board members.But it is important to understand how your background and skills apply to critical nonprofit management functions.
  • Consult or take on project work in your area of expertise; nonprofit heavily utilize consultants and independent contractors; great way to witness and compare the cultures of different nonprofits and evaluate which is better for you.
  • Seek informational interviews with nonprofit CEO’s and executives. 

Interview and Preparation

An interview is your chance to sell yourself. The more you are comfortable with your strengths (and weaknesses) and how you may fit into the nonprofit, the more success you will have. 

Preparation includes researching the particular nonprofit and its industry (e.g. arts & culture, health, environmental, education, etc.). Research is one of the most important components of a job search. You will not succeed in your job-search without knowledge of the organizations you are interviewing with or information about the particular nonprofit industry.

Finally, some additional activities to improve your chances of successful nonprofit job search are ‘strategic volunteering’ and nonprofit education and training. Volunteering is essential to understanding the uniqueness of the nonprofit organizations.

All types of volunteering are important and valuable but for people seeking employment I recommend ‘'strategic volunteering'. Strategic volunteering is a volunteering assignment of limited duration, arranged between a nonprofit executive and an experienced volunteer, to carry out a valued management deliverable for the organization. This type of strategic use of volunteering is a win-win for the nonprofit and the person seeking employment. It is a great way to help translate business skills to nonprofit management.

Training and education in nonprofit management is critical to any person working, or seeking to work, in the nonprofit sector because of the dramatic sector changes. A variety of levels of training and education exist from community seminars to graduate college education. Lawrence Tech nonprofit graduate students come from all walks of life. Many already have master’s degrees. Regardless of their background, they find helpful the immersion into core nonprofit management competencies with the particular emphasis on fundraising. 

The job search for a nonprofit job is similar to most professional job searches. Following these tips regarding crafting of a resume, developing a network and preparing for the job interview will help you to make the case that you understand the unique challenges of a nonprofit organization and will add real value to the achievement of its mission.