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  • Pat Libby

Want to get hired at a nonprofit? DON’T do this!

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Last week a friend of mine asked me to write a blog about job search etiquette. She’s a nonprofit professional who is looking for a job and was reading all of this crazy crap (my words, not hers) on LinkedIn about how job seekers should approach the search process.

Since a major part of my consulting practice involves helping nonprofits with executive search (and I’m in the midst of an important search at the moment), she thought I might have some wisdom to share on the subject.

The thing is, I’ve been doing executive search work for 21 years. And what I’ve learned is this: the search process hasn’t changed all that much but people have gotten a lot dumber (or lazier) about how they approach the situation.

Here’s my advice about what to do when you’re searching for a nonprofit job – these are lessons that employers can also put to use when they’re looking at job candidates:

1. Do some research on the organization.

Come on people; it’s so easy today to find out information about any profit organization that’s hiring. If you go to Guidestar you can take a look at the organization’s Form 990. If you go to the nonprofit’s website you can find out how long it’s been around, who’s on the board, what programs it operates, which organizations it partners with and all kinds of other nifty things.

By doing that research you might stumble upon someone you know who works with that nonprofit and can give you the inside scoop – or at least, tell you more about its leadership and work.

In some cases, you can even visit the organization to check them out. If it’s a university you can walk around the campus, same thing with a hospital or a museum. If it’s a community development group, you can see some of the housing they’ve built; you can volunteer for a morning at a homeless shelter. You get the idea.

That information will come in handy when you write a cover letter (see below) and, because you’ve written a great cover letter, you’ll score an interview where you’ll be able to talk about how your experiences fit with what you know about the organization.

2. Make a connection with a thoughtful cover letter.

I would estimate that 90% of the applications that I’m reviewing right now for a high level executive job have not taken the time to write a good cover letter!

A good cover letter not only tells me that the candidate is able to write nicely composed paragraphs that string together a series of coherent thoughts (this is critically important for any executive level position), it also tells me that the person has put some thought into how to connect who they are with the mission of the organization.

A thoughtful letter tells the reader why. Why are you applying for this position? What does this nonprofit mean to you? What differentiates you from the 200 other people who are flooding my in-box with their resume (and nothing else)?

A good cover letter explains why you are passionate about this cause.

Why cover letters are important

Folks, a thoughtful cover letter is NOT “Dear Search Committee: My skills and qualifications are ideally suited for this position. I look forward to discussing my experience in person.” That my friends, is a boring waste of the 10 seconds it took me (and you just now) to read it.

Anyone who knows anything about nonprofits knows that mission is key. When looking for a nonprofit job, be sure to make a personal connection to the mission of that organization.

3. Email a thank you note.

Thank you notes in the nonprofit hiring process

This is the one thing that has changed slightly from the dark ages. Thank you notes – carefully crafted to be thoughtful – are still important but because things move so quickly in the digital age, it’s better to email them then to take the time to write them out longhand on lovely stationary.

Nonprofits hire people who have skills and passion. If you show both of those traits, you’ll be sure to land a great job.

If you like reading about about nonprofits, philanthropies, or all the other things I think about, you can subscribe to this blog! Enter your email in the Subscribe box at the top of this page and I will send blog updates straight to your inbox. Enjoy this post in infographic form, and feel free to share:

Nonprofit Hiring Infographic by Pat Libby Consulting

--- Pat Libby Consulting is a San Diego firm that offers nonprofit consulting and philanthropy consulting services. Contact us to learn more about how to find the right executive for your organization, or to receive a free consultation.


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