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Posts Tagged ‘career

As if you need a reason to be a nonprofit rockstar

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I’m a Millennial, and I like my information bite-sized.  But trying to learn things that way–mostly online–can be a piecemeal effort, and at heart I’m more old-fashioned: I love books. So I was tickled when I heard Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris were crafting a book of advice on nonprofit careers. The result: How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar, which debuted today in both e-book and print formats.

Full disclosure: I was invited to read and review an advance copy, and if you click the link to the book above and decide to buy it from there, I receive a small portion of the sale price. Come on, though. I studied ethics at Oxford. I won’t fawn over a book for a kickback; I’ll fawn over it because it deserves said fawning. Luckily this one does.

I’ll keep this review brisk, because I like long book reviews about as much as you do, and your time is better spent reading the book than reading my blog post about the book.

Reasons to read How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar:

  • Curation. It rounds up the most reliable nonprofit career tips from across the Internet–expert blogs, Twitter, news interviews, etc.–and presents them in a coherent collection that’s easier to navigate and notate than that folder of bookmarks I painstakingly saved. This alone makes me a fan.
  • Relevance. It references up-to-date career search tips, emphasizing social media and other techniques that are still crossing over into the HR mainstream and therefore benefit from explanation.
  • Well-roundedness. It includes tips on managing your finances, work-life balance, and other things that seem peripheral to a career but affect it more they get credit for.
  • Ambition. It lists ways to advance your career no matter what phase you’re in: volunteer, intern, entry-level, mid-level, senior, etc. Even if you’re already the boss, you can always get better at it (as both Rosetta and Trista know personally, since they’re now bosses themselves).
  • Details. It suggests exact phrasing for milestones such as negotiating a raise. I know, I’m not in it for the money either, but tip #41 alone is worth the price of the entire book several times over.

Rockstar’s weak spots have already been observed by Trina Isakson, and I agree with several of them, including:

  • The book feels written for Millennials. I would add that this makes sense given the often fledgling careers of people in my age group. But the recession has sent people of most generations into the job hunt, many of whom who could benefit from Rockstar if it had a less age-specific feel.
  • As an introvert, I also find some of the imagery and tips better suited to extroverts.

In addition, as a diehard reader of Rosetta’s blog and a catcher-up to Trista’s, I realized with a jolt that some chapters were recycled almost wholesale from existing–and free–content on said blogs. On one hand, this briefly made me feel like a sucker. On the other, let’s be honest: it’s efficient. Like I said, the real gem of this book is its accomplishment in curating content that is far more useful as a collection than as isolated bits in cyberspace.

That aside, Rockstar is a book worth reading and sharing. For me, it came along at the perfect time: in danger of drifting into career doldrums for a few weeks, I snuck a few pages in my cubicle this afternoon and hit the list of ideas for tip #32: “Fall back in love with your job.” Thank you, Rosetta and Trista. It’s about time I did.

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Written by eclawson

November 1, 2010 at 9:25 PM

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Subsector-switching, part III: Tera Wozniak Qualls

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This is the third installation in a series of guests posts on subsector-switching by members of the Nonprofit Millennial Blogging Alliance.  (Catch up on part I here and part II here.) Tera Wozniak Qualls is a nonprofit professional, community member, and the original social citizen in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.

What subsectors do you distinguish within the nonprofit community?
The nonprofit community has many subsectors, even within general sectors.  If I had to name the broad sectors I would include: human services, health, education, foundation/philanthropy, arts and culture, environmental, religion, and international.

What subsectors have you worked in so far?  How did you transition between them?
In my career I have worked for both the education and human services subsectors.  While getting my bachelor’s degree I worked for a United Way focused on human services programs.  After college I got offered the opportunity to work for a university nonprofit academic center. I moved to the academic center to exercise my love for working with multiple nonprofit organizations.

Do you consider yourself more strongly drawn toward a specific subsector/cause (such as homelessness and housing issues) or to a specific nonprofit function (such as fundraising, outreach, etc.)?
Although my career has been short I have thought a lot about this question.  So far, I have decided I am more draw to a particular nonprofit function.  Program management allows me to use all my strengths.

Do you want/plan to return to a specific subsector in the future?  Are you doing anything on the side now to keep your knowledge of that subsector fresh?
I sometimes think about returning to human services and would if I found a strong program management opportunity.  Currently I am working on developing my leadership skills and knowledge of the foundation/philanthropy sector.

Do nonprofits lend themselves more easily to this kind of transition among subsectors around than the public or private sectors do?
I actually think it is harder to move among and between subsectors in the nonprofit sector.  Although there are many subsectors that require the same skills, passion for a cause and interest in hiring someone who has knowledge about your cause is typically considered.  Networks in specific sectors also plays a strong role in hiring an individual or moving between sectors.  However, some roles, such as fundraiser are more mobile.

Many students or entry-level professionals interested in nonprofit work are faced with a choice: take a menial job or volunteer position for an organization or cause they care deeply about, or take a more lucrative position in the public or private sector that uses their specific skills (writing, research, advocacy, etc.).  If you were advising someone on a career move in this situation, which would you recommend they do?  Is there another option?
I would recommend taking the position you feel you will be happier in.  If you decide to take a position in the public sector just for the salary you will spend time looking for ways to fuel your need for working in the nonprofit sector and hating the job.  If you are tailored to work in the nonprofit sector, go for it. You will find ways to make extra salary, and there is potential for other benefits outside of salary.  Some might actually mean working less hours during the week, which could provide you the opportunity to work a second job.

What advice do you have for mid-career nonprofiteers who want to try a different subsector?
I would suggest volunteering in a sector you are looking to switch to before switching.  Although the sectors are all considered nonprofit they are all much different and you should be sure about your switch before making one you might regret.  On the other hand, you are young and have a lot of career left.  Making a switch could mean an optimal learning position and an opportunity to possible meet someone or gain a network that will lead you to your dream job.

Written by eclawson

June 22, 2010 at 8:35 PM

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Subsector-switching, part II: Elisa M. Ortiz

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This is the second in a series on what I call “subsector-switching”–working in one subsector of nonprofits and then changing to another, for any of a variety of reasons.  I asked the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance for thoughts on subsector switching, and this is the first guest post on the topic, from Elisa M. Ortiz. Elisa is a dedicated activist and organizer for social change with extensive experience developing and leading advocacy and civic engagement campaigns, working with diverse grassroots constituencies, utilizing various social marketing and outreach tools, and training, educating and empowering thousands of people. She currently works at Smart Growth America as the State Campaigns Director, leading state policy reform efforts around transportation and land use. To learn more and connect with Elisa, check out her blog Onward and Upward or follow her on Twitter.

What subsectors do you distinguish within the nonprofit community?
I think of subsectors in two different ways: one based on issue area and one based on mission focus. These aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. In terms of issue focus there are nonprofits covering everything from homeless issues, to women’s rights to transportation and land use (like my own organization) to education to health care and much, much more. On the mission-focused side there are think tanks, advocacy organizations, direct service nonprofits, grant makers and others.

What subsectors have you worked in so far?  How did you transition between them?
Within the issue area subsectors, I’ve worked in various nonprofits including two different women’s rights and reproductive justice organizations, in low income housing, nonprofit infrastructure and now in smart growth and transportation. Transitioning between these subsectors hasn’t been that difficult for me. I’m a fast learner and as soon as I accept a position in a new subsector I try to read and absorb as much as I can. I then spend the first few weeks of a new job continuing to read, listen, learn and ask tons of questions. One can generally ‘get’ the terminology, key issues and basic themes pretty quickly, especially if the new job offers good training and on-boarding for new employees.

Do you consider yourself more strongly drawn toward a specific subsector/cause (such as homelessness and housing issues) or to a specific nonprofit function (such as fundraising, outreach, etc.)?
I definitely find myself more drawn to my job function – organizing and outreach – more than any particular subsector. I find that moving between subsectors allows me to learn about a lot of different issues and still gain skills and experience as an organizer and strategic planner.

Do you want/plan to return to a specific subsector in the future?  Are you doing anything on the side now to keep your knowledge of that subsector fresh?
Honestly, there isn’t any particular subsector that I’m looking to return to in the future (though I’m not opposed to returning to any of them). I’m looking to advance my career and I’m flexible as to the type of organization that can help me do that.

Do nonprofits lend themselves more easily to this kind of transition among subsectors around than the public or private sectors do?
I’m not sure I can answer this since I’ve never worked in either the public or private sectors. But if I had to guess, I’d say that the private sector probably provides more flexibility in transitioning between subsectors. My take is that corporations are focused on finding the right person with the right skills for the job and that skills are transferable across sectors. I think many government jobs are highly specific and focused and therefore it may be harder to transition between departments.


Many students or entry-level professionals interested in nonprofit work are faced with a choice: take a menial job or volunteer position for an organization or cause they care deeply about, or take a more lucrative position in the public or private sector that uses their specific skills (writing, research, advocacy, etc.).  If you were advising someone on a career move in this situation, which would you recommend they do?  Is there another option?
This is a tough question. If someone decides to take a job in a nonprofit she cares about, she also needs to make sure she’s going to get something out of it besides ‘making a difference’ – it should provide professional development (formal or informal), allow that person to learn new skills and if possible, provide direct opportunities for advancement. If those things don’t exist, he or she will end up like so many young nonprofit idealists: burned out and forced away from the work that he or she loves.

What advice do you have for mid-career nonprofiteers who want to try a different subsector?
Go for it! Some job roles may lend themselves to subsector switching more easily than others (for instance, I think government relations/policy jobs may be more difficult to transition between issue areas), but even if it seems difficult I think getting out of your issue area pigeonhole can only prove beneficial. If you’re transitioning between issue areas, I suggest stressing one’s skills and abilities rather than experience in that particular area. I also recommend reading up on the new issue as much as possible before any interview.
In terms of switching job roles, I think volunteering to do the work you want to do is probably the best way to gain experience. I think you may also have to accept a ‘step down’ from your current level of responsibility if you’re switching job roles entirely. But if you’re really interested in switching, its worth the extra work.

Written by eclawson

June 6, 2010 at 12:47 PM

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A Recession-Era Nonprofit Job Search Success Story

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The following is my final guest blog post for Idealist’s 2009 Nonprofit Career Month, wrapping up this week. For dozens of posts from a range of fabulous nonprofiteers, visit the Nonprofit Career Month Blog.

Once upon a time, there was a securely employed nonprofit staff member, drawing a good salary and benefits doing things she loved to do for an organization she adored with colleagues she would have given a kidney to, gladly, had any of them needed one. But something was missing: her family. She knew that she would never be truly happy as long as she was separated from them by thousands of miles. So she journeyed back to her homeland…unemployed.

It’s a true story—namely mine. And as Nonprofit Career Month wraps up, it occurred to me that my job search might serve as an encouraging fable—or a cautionary tale—to other nonprofit job seekers, whether first-timers, sector-switchers, or just hardy fools like me who say “recession be damned, I quit.”

I can’t promise that my experience is at all typical or replicable. But caveats aside, here’s the advice that worked for me…and what didn’t.

Some background: During college and grad school, I completed 5 internships in various nonprofits, worked abroad full-time for a few months, put in a few summers at a candy shop, and had logged only 15 months of continuous, full-time employment before beginning my job search. That put me solidly in the “entry-level” category. My experience: communications and fundraising. My passions: animal welfare and fundraising. My timeline: it’s been two months since I landed in Seattle. My goal: to get a job that I could live on, without backsliding too much in terms of salary or title.

What didn’t work

1. Long-distance job searching.
I started applying for jobs in Seattle before I got here. I submitted at least 10 applications…and got zero interviews. There are some tricks to it, but ultimately I decided I was better off relocating first and then looking.

2. “It’s a numbers game.”
We’ve all heard stories of job-seekers who applied for hundreds of jobs without scoring a single interview. And we’ve all heard that “it doesn’t matter how many other people apply if you’re the one who gets hired.” I confess: once in Seattle, I applied for 8 jobs. Of those 8, I landed interviews with 4. That’s a 50% interview rate. Yet if I had applied to 100 jobs, I would not have gotten 50 interviews. In the nonprofit sector, jobs are wildly diverse, and passion matters. So if you find 100 jobs you’re passionate about, either you don’t understand the job…or you’re starting to confuse passion with desperation.

3. “If you build up your personal brand right, employers will be calling you.”
Applications themselves took up only a few hours of my job search each week. I spent easily twice as much time on Twitter, my new blog, Brazen Careerist, LinkedIn, and other sites, building up my “personal brand” and trying to become a recognizable face in the sea of job candidates. One prospective employer said in an interview that he’d found my Twitter feed…and liked it. But no one fanned a contract in my face just because I tweeted something witty. (In fact, I believed before this, and still do, that personal branding is a lie.)

What worked

1. “If you find the perfect job, make yourself the perfect candidate.”
I found a new résumé format that made my application more readable and attractive. I was selective about the jobs I applied to, even if it meant going a week with no new applications. And even if I didn’t prepare every application as meticulously as I should have, I carefully customized the cover letter and résumé for each. And once I began doing all that, I actually started landing interviews. If I had to bet on anything that made the difference in my job search, it was that trifecta of readability, selectivity, and customization.

2. Dumb luck.
My first interview came about because I stayed up all night to finish and submit the application. There wasn’t even a deadline mentioned in the Craigslist ad. I was just crazy about the job. But it turned out that the organization had a 24-hour-on-call mentality, and the hiring manager was impressed with the 6 AM time stamp on my email. I would say this is another score for passion, which I mentioned above. But had the hiring manager not cared about my all-nighter, I would have been passed over for someone with more experience. I was told as much in the interview.

Another interview came about because I included a cover letter with my web form application, which apparently no one else did. I did this because I was taught always to include a cover letter. Again, I would say this means “always go above and beyond what’s asked for,” or even “always include a cover letter,” but if the hiring manager had been the type to be annoyed by extra materials in the application, mine would probably have been tossed. Instead, my surprise cover letter conveyed passion, which led to an interview…and a second…and a third.

The wild card

1. “It’s all about who you know.”
I’m not a networking fan. I passed up networking events when I arrived in Seattle; I neglected to set up informational interviews; I forgot to call my aunt’s friend who used to work at Microsoft. But after my third interview mentioned above, my dad suggested I send him my résumé to email to his colleague’s wife, who used to work at the organization.

I balked. “Dad,” I said, “this isn’t the era of patronage anymore. I got the interviews because of my own merit. I don’t want it to look like I need insider help to be a strong candidate. Plus, she doesn’t even know me! What would she possibly say that could help?”

My dad shrugged. “Well, think about it,” he said.”

So I gnashed my teeth over it a little more and finally sent him my (customized) résumé. I figured that was it.

But when I got the call a few days later with the job offer, one of the first things the HR person said to me was, “We received a very impressive letter from [Dad’s colleague’s wife] about you.” I can’t say for sure whether it made a difference in my being hired. But if I had to do it again, I’d use that connection in a heartbeat.

My story has an idyllic ending (or is it a beginning?). I’m back with my family in the region I love. And after seven weeks of job-hunting, I was offered a position that draws on my fundraising experience, with a more-than-livable salary and impressive title, for a compelling cause, in a highly-regarded organization whose employees sing the praises of their workplace.

In the recession-era job search, I know I’m luckier than most. But since two friends have both landed their dream jobs in the past two months, I also know I’m not alone in my luck. So if I can share it with you in the form of advice, thoughts, or a glance at your résumé (I’ll even send you the format I scored with), please let me know: Elizabeth dot clawson at gmail dot com. After all, a cautionary tale does no good if it goes unheeded, and a success story isn’t really one until it creates success for someone else.

Written by eclawson

October 26, 2009 at 12:11 PM

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Introducing the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance

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For much of my nonprofit career, I’ve been following some of the sector’s rising stars–the young nonprofit professionals who not only bring their best to their work, but also blog about it so others can learn and converse along the way. Now this cohort has formalized and today is inaugurated as the Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance, the brainchild of Allison Jones.

Here’s the Alliance roster so far:

I’m tickled to be part of this alliance, because we millennial nonprofit bloggers (it’s a niche, you know) look out for each other anyway, and it’s about time we made it official. Kind of like a polygamous engagement party for the blogosphere. But less scandalous.

My hope is that this alliance will become a conduit for meaty discussion on the nonprofit sector, drawing from each of our areas of expertise and sharing flavors across them. For example, I’ve already contributed two guest posts to the Nonprofit Career Month blog, but I’m sure my own topic–the intersection of nonprofits and news media–has a lot to learn from Allison’s blog on nonprofit careers. If other young nonprofit professionals are inspired to add their own blogging voices to the conversation, it’ll only get richer from there.

So to tackle one of Allison’s prompts for my inaugural post: why am in the sector? I’m a nonprofit sector devotee because it’s a unique and irreplaceable safety net. I’ve worked for public policy shops, refugee services, a think tank, a dispute resolution center, and a canvassing group–all nonprofits, all vital. Nonprofits take on challenges and responsibilities that no one else will. For this kind of work–the hungry-feeding, back-clothing, soul-ministering, scientific researching, arts-fostering,  cause-advocating kind–the public sector is too snarled in red tape and the private sector is too entranced by  profit. Nonprofits have the government’s sense of responsibility and business’ innovation, and it’s a perfect pairing. We do thankless work, and more with less, and have been for hundreds of years before “nonprofit sector” was even a name. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this?

And the best part yet? We get to write about it.

Written by eclawson

October 12, 2009 at 11:16 PM

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Gettin’ around

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It’s no secret–I’m a fundraiser at heart, and I’m not shy about insisting that it’s the best nonprofit career out there. Read more about it in my guest post for Idealist’s Nonprofit Career Month blog.

Written by eclawson

September 30, 2009 at 4:07 PM