Finance How to Break Into the Nonprofit Sector

Earlier this week, I posted an article about the best places to look for a job opportunity in the nonprofit industry. And that got me thinking, how can people break into it if they have no experience?I’m here to tell you that if you’re looking to break into the industry, you can do it as well. The only things that could limit you are your imagination and your tenacity.
Start Your Own Nonprofit: As I explained earlier, I founded a nonprofit, which I successfully grew into an international organization. You can do the same thing. I think there’s something that a lot of people miss within the industry. Nonprofits are also businesses. I’ve said it often, and I’ll write it again here, a “nonprofit” is a business with an IRS tax designation intended to serve a charitable cause and not profit or enrich shareholders.

Smart nonprofit executives, understand that to run an organization, you have to have leadership, an understanding of finance, expertise in fundraising (sales), and marketing. These are elements of any for-profit business, and even if there are nuances, they’re essential for a successful nonprofit. The biggest difference is that you’ll have to develop a program that will benefit society. However, even if you don’t have expertise in human or social services, for example, you can get someone to work with you who might have that particular knowledge.

Volunteer: An excellent way to get a sense of how nonprofits work is to volunteer. I will tell you that there are lots of organizations living hand to mouth. However, if you’re looking to become a professional within the sector, it might be something good for you to experience so you can learn and understand why this is many times the case.

You can also choose to volunteer at a medium or large nonprofit. Many times, more major organizations have volunteer programs. Also, if they’ve managed to get into the millions, say $5 million, $10 million or more, they’re probably doing a lot of things right. It’s a good place for you to lend your expertise and get networked with leaders in the industry who understand how to run a successful charity.If you’re just starting out in the working world, my bet is that you have great social media experience. Yes, perhaps I’m generalizing that all young people understand social media, but you probably have some facility with it. Alternately, if you’re a mid-career professional, you may have expertise in sales, marketing, finance or some other valuable knowledge that a nonprofit might find beneficial.Take a look at volunteering matching sites, and also do some research and pick up the phone and ask to speak to the executive director. They might be interested in talking to you depending on your expertise. Reaching out to the fundraising team is also a back-door way to get some information and be seen because good fundraisers understand volunteers can become supporters and advocates.
Get a Mentor: If you know someone, such as a friend in the field, invite your friend to a great dinner and barter something. Ask your friend for mentorship as you look to transition. More than likely my bet is that your friend will be glad to help you for a few good dinners and conversation because he or she enjoys your company.

If you’re already working in the nonprofit industry, there are a few good mentorship programs including the Center for Nonprofit Learning. If you’d like to start a nonprofit, you can work from a mentor and coach from SCORE, which is part of the Small Business Administration. Nonprofit Learning Lab helps professionals in the industry, but it also assists those looking to break into the sector.

Become a Board Member: Finally, sometimes you end up taking a peek into a career path, and upon reflection, you realize that it may not be something that you’re interested in doing for the long-term. That’s still okay. If you’re looking to make a difference in the world, you don’t have to have a career in the nonprofit world. You can simply bring your expertise to a nonprofit board.

Finally, I’d like to say something. I believe in social good and in making a difference, but I don’t care about doing it the way it was done in the 20th Century. If you’re a disruptor, an innovator, someone who has ideas, creativity, and imagination, I think the nonprofit industry can use you.