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  • Pat Libby

Applying for a nonprofit job? Follow Simon Sinek's advice

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Simon Sinek has it right about cover letters for nonprofit jobs (among other things).

If you’ve never heard of Simon Sinek – the Columbia professor/leadership guru/motivational speaker/YouTube sensation and author of the book, “Start With Why,” take 5 minutes and watch this video.

Sinek’s lessons are elegant in their simplicity. He tells us that humans are moved by WHY we do something, not by what we do.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’ve been reading through virtual sky-high piles of resumes from people who are aspiring to be the Executive Director of a nonprofit whose search I’m handling.

I just can’t believe that MOST applicants don’t tell me anything about WHY they want this job!

What really drives me bonkers is that soooooooooooooooooooooo many people hit the send button on their resume without taking a minute to:

  1. See if their experience and qualifications are an actual match for what this job requires.

  2. Write a cover letter.

Technology makes it easy for people to apply to a gazillion jobs in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t give applicants the excuse to be lazy.

(Unless, for some odd reason, they don’t want to succeed... and in that case they need a different type of professional help to wrestle with that issue than what I can offer.)

These applicants are, at best, missing out on an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the crowd and, at worst, wasting my time (which is not a good way of endearing oneself to a search consultant)!

On those rare occasions when I do receive a cover letter, 9 times out of 10 that letter says something like “my experience and qualifications makes me the ideal candidate for this position.”

Which, like “love” in tennis, means nothing.

Where’s the WHY?

Nonprofits are not making widgets. Nonprofit leaders do what we do because we want to make an impact on people’s lives.

If you want to land an executive job at a nonprofit organization, you need to tell the search committee WHY.

Why does this work matter to you?

Why do you think you can make an impact?

It’s really as simple as that.


Pat Libby is a San Diego nonprofit consultant and philanthropy consultant. Her executive search consulting services have been helping organizations transition into new leadership for more than three decades. Find out more about Pat's services here, and contact her today for a free consultation.


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