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Want to Work for a Nonprofit? Here's What Hiring Managers Look For

The last time we wrote about finding a career in the nonprofit sector, we shared some lessons we learned from successful job seekers and from our many years of working with nonprofits. Today, we come to you with gold—a glimpse of what hiring managers want from candidates, straight from the horse's mouth.
This spring, for the third straight year, we reached out to the organizations in the Idealist community and asked them about their financial situations, recruitment plans, and compensation projections, and put together a report on the findings. You can read the full HR Survey report here. In the meantime, here are some of the nuggets most relevant to those of you who want to work for a nonprofit.
Follow the directions. According to the survey, "Organizations overwhelmingly report that attracting the right pool of candidates and getting them to follow instructions is the toughest challenge of the recruitment process."
We can dive more into about what “the right pool of candidates” means later, but one of the easiest ways to get on the good side of hiring managers is to simply follow their directions. As one hiring manager put it:
If they would read the application and the format we want it in, that would be a good start. What part of Word doc or PDF do they not understand? If they cannot follow this simple instruction, it makes me wonder how they would do in the job.
So if they ask for a PDF, why are you are pasting your entire resume into an email? If they say don’t call, why are you on the phone?
Think beyond salary. We know that working in the nonprofit sector might not yield anything close to a $400,000 salary. Nonprofits are of course aware of this as well, and try to compensate by offering insurance, flextime, and other benefits. In fact, 40 percent think flextime is one of their most attractive benefits. So keep these things in mind when looking for your next opportunity.
Consider fundraising. It’s tough to write about this one because we know that half of fundraisers want to leave the field. It’s a demanding role and we totally understand how hard it can be retain talent in this profession. (Hats off to those of you who know how to make it rain.) But do you know what else this means? More jobs for you.
Fundraising professionals continue to be some of the most sought-after candidates in nonprofits, and their positions are some of the most challenging to fill. Increase your chances of landing a gig in the sector by seeking opportunities where you can build these skills.
If you’re new to the sector, explain yourself. Seventy-six percent of respondents said nonprofit experience (working, volunteering, or interning) is an important qualification for a candidate to have. So if you’ve never ever done anything with a nonprofit, get to it, and when you apply, emphasize how your current skills are transferable to the sector. Another hiring manager spells it out:
We will consider transferable experience outside of the nonprofit sector, but candidates should adequately describe their motivations for pursuing nonprofit work and articulate the connections between their experience and the job description in their cover letters.
For more information and interesting stats, check out the report.\n
Stamp image via Shutterstock\n

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