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Want a Nonprofit Job? How to Get Your Foot in the Door

Here in Portland there are 7,445 nonprofits in Multnomah County alone, and 20,000 in the state of Oregon.

Why, then, is it so hard to get a nonprofit job here?

Some of those nonprofits are tiny, one-person-in-the-living-room outfits. Plus, with so many in the same area, there is fierce competition for federal, state and county dollars.

The real question is, “How do you get your foot in the door?”

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an event, “Piloting Your Nonprofit Career” put on by The panel discussion provided helpful insight about how to get into a nonprofit career here in Oregon. That said, the suggestions outlined below apply wherever you live.

What the Pros Recommend

  1. Get to know the organization.Conduct informational interviews, volunteer, join the board, research what their challenges are, and meet people Jordan Turel, Executive director of Door to Grace, urged participants to “Do informational interviews all day long. “ Learn what their recent successes are. Understand their mission. They want to know that you believe in them, you understand the mission and that you are as passionate about it as they are, which takes us to Tip 2.

  2. Follow your passion and find an organization that fits.Rekah Brown, Chief Operations and Equity Officer of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette Valley put it bluntly: “If you’re not passionate about what we do, we don’t want you, even if you’re a contractor. We’d rather have someone passionate. Skills can be taught, passion can’t.” Without passion to drive your work in a nonprofit, it’s a slog. Find an organization where you will be a good cultural fit.

  3. Show how you and your skills can solve a critical problem for them.First, you need to translate your skills and your job title into language the nonprofit can understand. Don’t expect them to know the language of your company or the corporate world in general. Make it easy for them to see how what you’ve done will be valuable to them. Be able to talk about how your skills and your values align with the mission of the organization. What can you do that solves a need?

  4. Learn how a nonprofit is different from your previous experience. For some coming out of a corporate environment, the nonprofit world can be challenging. They are resource-scarce and often, it can take longer to make decisions because they are made collaboratively.

  5. Check out If you are retired or have at least 15 years' experience in the professional world, offers fellowship opportunities in the nonprofit realm.

If you are stuck in your career and need some help figuring out where to go next, email me for a free coaching session.

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