I once supervised a fantastic administrative assistant who came to work for our nonprofit right after college. She was a great employee: punctual, productive, knowledgeable, resourceful, flexible, an excellent writer and learned everything at the speed of light. She joined our organization in September and left us the following September to go back to school for a graduate degree. She left her position exactly a year from when she started. Although her ultimate goal was to go back to school, she also achieved her goal of gaining a year of solid, valuable nonprofit work experience. I would encourage young professionals who may be trying to “get their foot in the door” of the nonprofit field to make sure you find a job you can stay in for at least a year for these reasons.

It Makes You Look Responsible
As a young professional, you can definitely be penalized when potential employers look at your resume and see too many jobs listed with short tenures. Hiring managers want to see that you have a record of stable employment before they hire you. What they really want is evidence that you’re a nonprofit rockstar. But if you’re a recent grad looking for your first job, this can be hard to prove, especially if you haven’t had many previous jobs at all. So, when you DO get the opportunity to work at a nonprofit, make it count by staying at least a year to beef up your length of experience on your resume. Even if it is the nonprofit job from hell.

Education Is Not Enough
These days, most young professionals who are competing for nonprofit jobs have at least a Bachelor’s degree. I remember leading the hiring process for an entry-level, administrative position at my previous organization that elicited 200 applications from college grads . . . for a $32,000/year job! So in the current nonprofit job market, simply having a degree is not enough when everyone else has the same level of education (or more) as you do. Nonprofits prefer to have employees who have relevant work experience as well as the degree to back it up. When faced with two candidates with identical educational backgrounds, the one with at least a year of nonprofit work experience always wins.

Connections, Connections, Connections
If you stay in any job for 12 months, you’re bound to get to know a ton of people in that particular industry. Same thing in your first nonprofit job. The longer you stay in the organization, the most connections you’ll make. If you play your cards right, the contacts and relationships you form can and will lead you to the next level in your nonprofit career. Equally important to remember is that your connections in your first nonprofit job will serve as references for your next one. You want to make a good impression and keep in contact with these folks because believe me, you WILL need them later.

Obviously, your first order of business is to make sure that your first nonprofit job is one you can see yourself in for at least a year. If you do a great job and make the most of your network of peers and colleagues, you’ll be well on your way to creating a successful nonprofit career path.

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