This post appeared on March 4th, 2009 as a part of the Career Corner Advice Series
Yes, nonprofits are tightening their belts, implementing hiring freezes, and otherwise watching their pennies closely, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist. A bit of understanding about how (U.S.-based) nonprofits recruit will go a long way to opening doors that you might otherwise think are closed. The nonprofit hiring process is different for three key reasons:
- Nonprofits have decentralized job postings
- They hire on unusual cycles
- And they often hire from their own close-knit community
While it is harder to find a central nonprofit job posting location, it is not impossible to stay up-to-date. Many nonprofits (especially smaller ones) only post on their own websites, on local free job sites, and in local newspapers. Larger nonprofits utilize resources like Idealist.org, as well as their own organizations’ websites and local free job websites. A lack of centralized job posting locations makes it all the more important to know the local nonprofit community (organizations, networking contacts, and local resources). Additionally, you can set up alerts (both Yahoo! and Google, for example, offer alert systems) for keywords that pertain to your interests (grant writer, United Way; Program Director, America’s Second Harvest).
Though many nonprofits do not follow a hiring calendar per se, there are definitely busier hiring times to keep in mind. Some organizations assess their hiring needs at the end of their fiscal year and then do a wave of hiring for the start of the new fiscal year. If you are interested in a particular organization, learn when their fiscal year begins (look at Annual Reports or their IRS 990 forms on Guidestar) and keep close tabs on them during this period. Other organizations may not hire on a fiscal cycle but may be influenced by other factors. Organizations that attract young professionals sometimes have a high turnover during the summer as employees depart to pursue further schooling in the fall. If you have a target career area, think about the connection between current events and cyclical calendars that may influence an organization’s hiring practices. For example, jobs in education mostly hire in the spring and summer and jobs that involve a lot of work outside are typically most active in the spring, summer, and fall.
Finally, remember that the nonprofit sector is a close-knit community and that many positions go unadvertised because they are either filled internally or through a network connection with another organization. This makes getting out (see Chapter 4 of The Idealist Guide) and getting involved (see Chapter Five) a vital step toward gaining visibility and finding those unadvertised nonprofit employment opportunities.
The bottom line here: with limited budgets for job postings and recruitment, the lack of a hiring calendar, and the fact that nonprofits often look internally first and then to other nonprofits in the community next when hiring for new positions, many job openings are never publicized.
Advice from Steven Joiner, Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers. He can’t say enough about getting offline to boost your job search (especially now that you’ve finished reading this blog post!).