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How to Market Yourself to Nonprofits
What makes one jobseeker more appealing than another in the eyes of a nonprofit employer? While skills and background certainly play an important role, many hiring managers place just as much emphasis on the fit between an individual's personality and the organizational culture, most directly regarding a candidate's commitment to the group's mission. Being able to present these qualities in a meaningful and professional manner can give you a competitive edge in the hiring process.
The following article explores some proven ways to increase your nonprofit marketability.
Lesson 1: Know Yourself
Never begin any job search without carefully evaluating your past experience, current goals, and future direction. Map out your skills and abilities. Define your value proposition. Narrow your search. Write down every possible characteristic of your ideal organization and position. Consider how this role fits into a long-term strategy. Talk with friends and peers about your ideas and get their feedback. Your goal is to develop a detailed understanding of yourself, what you want, and how to best represent yourself to hiring managers.
Lesson 2: Know Your Audience
The next step is to understand your target audience. Begin by gathering as much information as possible about the fields and organizations in which you are interested. When researching, consider questions such as the following: What is important to this organization? What does it value? What concerns its leaders? What are its challenges? What are its strategies?
To gather this information, study the organization's website, read recent press, and research vital statistics on websites such as Guidestar. Keep up on news in the nonprofit sector by reading publications like the NonProfit Times and Philanthropy News Digest. There are also a number of blogs devoted to commenting on happenings within the nonprofit sector. The Nonprofit Blog Exchange is a great place to find out who is blogging about a particular topic, field, or organization. Social networking sites like Change.org can also help you connect with people who share your passion and learn from their experience.
In addition, participating in informational interviews, volunteering, and attending events hosted by organizations of interest are great ways to get to know your target audience first hand. You may even make some great personal connections to help you in your search.
Lesson 3: Personally Reflect Nonprofit Hiring Values
With a sector that is comprised of over a million organizations in the U.S., nonprofits do not come "one size fits all." It is important to stay mindful of the diverse range of organizations within the sector, and that each nonprofit will have its own set of hiring requirements. There are, however, several common traits that most nonprofits desire:
Cultural Competence- Most nonprofits value resourcefulness, flexibility, multi-tasking capacity, self-directed leadership, a "can do" positive attitude, and, above all, passion for a mission. Your job is to learn as much as you can about the organization's culture, decide if it is the right place for you to work, and then mirror back your cultural competency to the hiring manager, demonstrating exactly how your personality is a great fit for their culture. Methods for learning about an organization's culture include general research, informational interviewing with peer organizations, and soaking up as much as you can ascertain during the interview process.
Commitment to Mission- Having a personal and meaningful connection to an organization's mission is a hiring requirement of almost every nonprofit organization. It has to go beyond just wanting to "do good" or "help kids." Take some time to figure out the specific reasons why you are interested in a particular organization's work, as well as what skills you have to help further their goals. The most compelling candidates are those who can relate their competencies, experience, and personal connection to the organization's mission.
Skills and Potential- Organizations want to meet candidates who not only posses a specific skill set, but also those who have the potential to learn new skills and demonstrate growth in a new position. Before you apply for a position, make a list of your marketable skills and then match them up to the requirements of the job description. If you do not have experience in a given area, think through your comparable or transferable skills.
Experience - Requirements for experience vary greatly depending on the nature and level of the position. For all positions, nonprofits seek individuals who have track records of success in similar roles, organizations, and fields. Savvy nonprofits value professional experience that transfers across sectors and roles, especially management experience - be it managing staff, budgets, projects or just multiple priorities in a given role.
Lesson 4: Make an Impression in the Application Process
Now that you have researched your target organizations and understand what is important to them, it's time to begin the job application process. In this process, you get three chances to market yourself: in your cover letter, resume, and interview. As previously discussed, organizations seek candidates that personally reflect their hiring values. Remember to illustrate these in each part of your application.
Your first opportunity to share your knowledge of the organization and reflect its values is in the cover letter. Make an impression by explaining your passion for the mission and the reasons behind your passion. Then, explain what makes you an excellent candidate by connecting your skills and experience to information in the job description.
In your resume, focus on information that is valuable to a nonprofit employer, such as accomplishments that highlight sought-after traits like leadership and being a self-starter. If you are new to the nonprofit sector, focus on your transferable skills. For example, you may not have led a letter-writing campaign to raise money in the past, but you have strong writing skills and experience in managing direct mail projects.
The interview is your ultimate opportunity to make a positive impression with the organization. Come prepared with your knowledge of the organization and intelligent questions for the interviewer. Reiterate why you are passionate about the organization's mission. Illustrate your cultural competence by interviewing with high energy, confidence, and a positive attitude.
Final ThoughtsMarketing yourself to nonprofits requires a diligent approach to unearth information beyond the job description. Taking the time to dig into what an organization does and values, as well as exploring your own personal connection to an organization's work, will pay off in the application process and help you stand out as an excellent, committed, and well-matched candidate.
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