Where Have All the Nonprofit Jobs Gone?

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!).


2 Replies to “Where Have All the Nonprofit Jobs Gone?”

  1. Hi Steve,

    I read The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers when it first appeared on the Idealist.com website. I also attended two Encore Career summits in my quest to find employment with a nonprofit. I am older over 50. Fairly recent Masters in Gerontology. Two other Masters degrees.

    I considered trying to develop my own job but after consulting several individuals abandoned that idea due to the poor economy. I am barely hanging in there. Just shooting resumes into cyberspace. I’ve applied to all local nonprofits but seem to be a mismatch for any position. Don’t suggest volunteering I’ve tried that – Program Director with a major nonprofit scheduled appointments with me then didn’t show twice and then didn’t even have my phone number available when I contacted her again. Another two individuals never returned my phone calls so I gave up. No Americorps position near me and I can’t afford to relocate for a postion. You are so right about how nonprofits hire. I applied for a position with a local nonprofit who hired someone who had some prior political connections. Her resume is also posted online with her seeking another job although she stil works for the nonprofit. It’s a shame she doesn’t have the passion for the job that I would.have brought to the position. Appears she just needed a job in the interim while looking for another. I now know that I should have had a contingency plan to fall back on because attempting a career change hasn’t worked. Combining passion with a paycheck and attempting to work for many more years to come hasn’t panned out. My well being at this point has definitely suffered. Trying the temp agency again to just get a job. Thanks for letting me comment.


    1. And thanks for your comments Janice. I would love to say that your situation is unique but, sadly, that is far, far from the case. I would also love to say that I have some sort of secret advice for you, some tidbits that will change your worklife fortunes. Sadly, that is not the case either.

      What I can say is that a sense of possibility and optimism–so, so hard to maintain in this economy–is necessary. The ability to still show up, still smile, and still put yourself out there in a way that entices people to want to interact/work with you is among the most important attributes of succeeding. I say this having seen lots of people who don’t let the grind of career transitions, financial worries, the arduous task of finding “work with meaning”, or even “settling” for a “survival job” succeed because they’re energy and optimism is noticeable. Alternately, I’ve seen many people grow angry and resentful and let that spill into all facets of their life; I suspect this is some of what you mean when you say your well-being has suffered. Sadly, I encounter more of the latter group than the former and, while I completely understand the tension created by today’s shifting, uncertain workplace, I can only say, “Don’t take it personally. We’re all hustling to survive.” (and, yes, I include myself in that crowd).

      How then can you get up each day with a sense of hope instead of despair? I can only answer this from my own experience and that answer is twofold: 1) Celebrate the successes each day. For me, this is often in the form of a conversation, a connection, or a sense of sharing and generosity that I experience with someone (or something) else. When I worry about money (who doesn’t?) I remind myself of all the abundance I have in my life: my friends, family, pets, home, etc. 2) Seek out and intentionally engage with likeminded people. We’ve simultaneously lost a sense of community (in real time, in person) while expanding our community via the internet (we can now keep track of more people who touch our lives than ever before, no matter where they live). I am very intentional about who I spend time with and much of that mindfulness is making sure that I am with people who have a sense of hope (despite all the evidence to the contrary), a mostly positive outlook, and a willingness to help others. When you are surrounded by people who want to help, there is a flow of resources, support, and energy.

      This may all sound a bit too esoteric but I concede that, given the massive socio-economic, international, and interconnected changes that the world is going through, there aren’t a lot of “take steps one, two, and three and you’ll succeed in the workplace” perspectives that are legit. Redefining work is but a part of redefining everything in our reality (no small task!).

      Two final thoughts: 1) Shooting resumes off into cyberspace is a (very small) part of the process. Keep it up but I recommend a 3:1 approach. Three times as much time spent connecting with real people (emailing, informational interviewing, etc.) as time spent online in the cold reaches of cyberspace. 2) I will never stop suggesting volunteerism… but I won’t suggest it as a direct route to work. Volunteering gets you out there, improves your health, does wonders for your energy, and keeps you connected to the world of people. Plus, no two volunteer opportunities are going to be the same.

      I don’t know if you’ve visited the worklife site I co-created called “The 21st Century Worklife“. If not, have a look. Finally, thank you for being out there trying to make a positive change in the world. It may feel like no one notices but that is not the case.

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