The Best Way to Create a Job You Love In Nonprofits
By Mark McCurdy
As Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” In this new economy, the best way to stand out from the crowd is to give value before you are paid for it.
I like to call this “strategic volunteering”. You create a list of the top 5-10 organizations where you would really like to work and grow professionally and then you build a plan on how best to approach them to add value to their team.
Here are some real examples of clients, colleagues and family that have successfully landed paid positions with nonprofits they love (names have been changed):
Margaret was a financial professional for over 20 years. She made a decision to make a career change, doing much research and “soul searching” prior to creating her list of desired organizations. Margaret and I, as her career coach, did a lot of brainstorming to come up with a list of 5 local organizations that she was drawn to in the low-income human services sector.
Margaret then approached the organizations for an “informational interview” about the possibility of volunteering for them. In the end, 75% of the organizations said yes to an “interview”. After meeting with the executive or manager at these organizations, she decided on the best mission and cultural fit for her. Margaret volunteered for a little over six weeks at a local food pantry and was offered a full-time position as their business manager.
Ed had been working in the property management industry for over 12 years and ended up getting downsized. Ed had been out of work for more than two years and the concept of strategic volunteering sounded counter-intuitive to him. After some time reflecting, Ed decided the environmental sector was his greatest interest and he had even done some volunteering with in the past. Ed narrowed his search and ultimately started volunteering with a local environmental organization.
While strategic volunteering, Ed got took a class and received an environmental certificate. After a few months of volunteering and giving value, Ed was approached by one of the board members of the organization about a job at different environmental organization. Ed had shown he was passionate about the sector, showed up with a great attitude and put in consistent effort. Ed was offered a paid position with purpose, not only because he was qualified but because he was referred by the “right” person.
Samuels Creating the Schmooze
Robbie Samuels (real name) was new to Boston. For over a year prior to moving to Boston, he had visited the city regularly to build relationships with new friends, learn his way around,, and investigate the organizations he hoped to work for.
At least once a month, he volunteered for Fenway Health’s outreach program. After a few months he was offered the opportunity to be a lead volunteer, in charge of setting up the outreach table and training new volunteers. He accepted this position and was then in more regular contact with staff at Fenway Health. He also signed up to volunteer at the AIDS Action Committee’s AIDS Walk in Boston. He knew that he needed to stand out in a crowd of volunteers, so he offered to help out the day prior to their event, as well as the day of the event. The morning of the walk, he was asked to take a leadership volunteer role. AIDS Action staff knew him and knew that he could be counted on.
When he applied a couple of months later to positions at both of these organizations, he had a strategic advantage that was not available to him a year prior. Stepping off the elevator for his first interview at AIDS Action, he ran into the Volunteer Coordinator who greeted him by name. She then told the hiring manager how helpful he had been at the AIDS Walk. Similarly, when he applied for the Fenway Health position, he had a connection on staff that helped his resume get reviewed. After months of job searching and applying to dozens of organizations, he received a job offer from both of these organizations.
One of the biggest challenges I see candidates face when looking to work in the nonprofit or social impact space is focusing their search. Once you are able to narrow your focus to a handful of organizations, it is easier to network and build a strategy to translate your strategic volunteering to a paid position.
I started the blog post with a quote so I will end with another by the famous Mark Twain “Actions speak louder than words.” Take action and strategically volunteer for a mission and culture you love and great things will begin to happen in your life. I know of at least half a dozen people who have even found the love of their life through volunteering. . Looking for more strategies on volunteering? Read my book Strategic Volunteering: 50 Ingredients to transform your life and career.