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At the outset, I want to make a couple of observations because I think that looking for a public interest job or a job with a nonprofit is among the most interesting types of searches you can do. On the one hand, it can be exceptionally difficult, but on the other, it can be incredibly rewarding.
When certain tribes of American Indians used to go into battle, they would put on face paint, and that face paint would be a way for them to look like certain animals or other figures. It had symbolic meaning, but what they were really doing was getting into a certain state of mind. In order to fight successfully, they believed they needed to put themselves into a state where they were like animals: ferocious, frightening, fast, and intimidating.
I was reminded of this one day when I was racing my car on the freeway. It was a car with a giant 12-cylinder engine, and I was racing someone in a very fast Porsche. Because the car I was driving had such a big engine, it could accelerate very quickly once it got going 70, 80, or 90 miles an hour. I accelerated in the car and when I was going about 120 miles an hour the car wouldn’t go any faster and a Porsche zoomed right by. It wasn’t because my car couldn’t go faster. It probably could have kept going up to 150 or 160 miles an hour. The reason it slowed down is that it I had a governor on it. A governor always slows down the car.
In terms of you looking for a public interest job, you need to be in a certain state of mind. That’s because looking for a public interest job is not like the common job search. When you are looking for a public interest job, the employer is not interested in hiring you because of how much money you can earn their organization. In most instances, they are interested in your commitment and what you can do for them. They are also interested in your passion for the subject matter. Another common concern is that you are the sort of person they would be comfortable working with.
The typical job search, if you’re an executive, is taking a call from a recruiter and working on the search that way. If a recruiter isn’t helping you with the search, you’re most likely looking on a job site. If you’re not looking at a job site, you may be doing a mailing or something like that to an interested potential employer. If you’re not looking on a job site, you may be networking with someone you know.
These are common ways of looking for jobs, but when it comes to looking for a public interest job, your whole approach must be different.
When you’re looking for a public interest job, you may have a governor on the way you search for a job–or what you believe in terms of what you can accomplish. That’s why you need to put yourself in a certain mental state so you can take off the governor and push forward. Searching for a public interest job is unlike any other type of search. In fact, in this sector, you are more likely to find employers who don’t want to hire you, can’t hire you, or are going to put you through all sorts of obstacles. Some of the hardest jobs to get are public interest jobs.
Most times, your cost center—meaning what you’re costing the employer as well as what money you can bring in—is being factored into the equation. One exception is the government, where they may have guaranteed budgets, so it doesn’t matter as much. Still, they will be calculating what value you bring to the table.
When you’re searching for a public interest job, everything is much different. There is so little money to go around for these positions so that when you’re trying to get the job, you’re going to come up against a lot of resistance.
When applying for public interest and nonprofit jobs, you really need to ingratiate yourself with the people you’re applying to.
You need to find a place to network with them. You need to talk to them about jobs and come back to them again, and again, and again. I’ve known people that had such a desire to work with a specific nonprofit organization that they found the people that were in charge of hiring, built little databases, and stayed in touch with them throughout their career. They were in contact with the people inside the public interest organization with which they wanted to work for years, even decades, before they ever approached them for a job.
That is what you need to do if you want to get really good at this. At a minimum, there is more lead-time involved in getting a job with a public interest or nonprofit organization than any other type of job. It’s something to keep in mind. You need to be there. You need to be in people’s faces and learn how to make them know that you’re there.
In the public interest realm, one of the most important things to understand is that the who hold positions are exceptionally dedicated to what they do. The reason they’re so dedicated is because, in most cases, they’ve given up the potential of doing private industry work for work that will pay them considerably less than they could be making in the private sector. They are very dedicated to what they’re doing.
In most instances, they have a firm belief and conviction in what they’re doing. When you go into most public interest and most non-profit companies, it could be about anything. It could be people passionate about supporting abortion rights or passionate about restricting abortion rights. You’re going to find people that have very definite beliefs and definite feelings about a variety of subjects.
There will be people in that organization at all levels, from the lowest to the highest, who share that conviction. One of the most important things when you’re searching for a job in one of those organizations is that you also share that conviction. Not only that, but you must get along with the people on a political, philosophical, and emotional level. You need to share that.
To take an extreme case, if you are anti-abortion and you want to work for a pro-abortion public interest organization or non-profit organization, you are going to have a very difficult time getting a job. It’s not going to click. You’re going to be around people that have some very serious feelings about this subject matter and people who do not share your beliefs.
Another thing that is very important to consider when looking at nonprofit or public interest jobs is that for a lot of people that is the only type of job they ever want to do. There are certain people that find this type of job really motivating and that in their hearts, this is all they want to do and all they’ve ever wanted to do. Because they’re so committed, the job means more to them than the average job.
The job could be termed a lifestyle and political choice. The pay is often low and the demands may be high. This is important for you to understand, because that’s what you’re up against. If you’re considering a public interest or nonprofit career, whatever the subject matter, you should be very committed to it. You need to share that conviction.
Another point that is very important to understand is that people that work in public interest and non-profit organizations are typically making far less money than they would make at a similar organization doing a similar job in the private sector. A job that pays $30,000 – $40,000 in the public interest and non-profit sector theoretically could pay over $200,000 in the private sector. You just need to understand that you’re working with people who are extremely committed and are taking much smaller salaries than they would otherwise, often by a factor of two or three, or more.
Despite the number of these jobs, the competition can be extremely stiff. I remember I used to work in my first year of law school in an environmental division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., which is not a non-profit or public interest job, but many of the people who work there seem to believe it is.
You’re with people that are not held back in terms of a governor. They are passionate in what they’re doing. Not only are they not held back, but they’re also “in state” with their war paint on. They’re excited about what they’re doing. Because they’re excited, you need to make sure that you’re excited about it too.
You cannot compete in that sort of career realm and get jobs when you’re up against people who are passionate and have their war paint on unless you do too. That is one of the first things I want to tell you. Unlike any other job, when you’re looking for a public interest job or non-profit job, you need to, deep down, really have your war paint on and be willing to go all out toward that career, with no governor on.
When you think about it, people march, go to jail, and do all sort of things when they’re very interested in a cause. People like Greenpeace attack boats that are hunting for whales, for example. Other people concerned about social issues may sleep in cold parks for weeks to get their point across. Some people get very excited about various social issues where they can make a difference.
Most people have some sort of political proclivities, meaning they’re probably pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, Libertarian or something. You need to understand that and be very aware of who you are and what interests you have when looking for nonprofit jobs.
You need to make sure that you understand where you are and who you are when you start looking for nonprofit jobs. Once you understand who you are and where you’re coming from then you can more adequately focus on going after those jobs. That is the hard part, because once you know how to do that, the whole process of searching for a job like this becomes much easier.
With that said, I want to say up front that looking for a public interest or non-profit job is exciting. There are numerous opportunities out there. Every skill you’ve ever learned about finding a job, whether it’s building a referral network or researching employer websites, is going to make a huge difference in your ability to succeed.
In the public interest or nonprofit realm, you’re not going to see lots of employers coming directly to people. Instead, the employers are going to be in the background waiting for people to come to them. That is one of the most important things to understand about getting a public interest or nonprofit job. In most cases, you have to go out to the employers and ask them for a job. While they do have jobs, you need to go out and ask them for jobs.
I have known people in the public interest sphere who spent years looking for public interest jobs—five, six, or seven years—whether with a single employer or a group of employers, before they got the job. That is a very difficult concept for most people to swallow. If you have to spend all that time contacting an employer, you realize it’s not like the employer is coming to you.
They may not even have a recruiting budget to post jobs if they have job openings. The onus is on you to track them down and to find them. They pay very low salaries in many cases, though not in all cases.
Below, I offer a number of places where you can go to track down nonprofit and public interest jobs. You need to go to all of those sources and develop a list based on what you’re interested in, where it is, the target employers you’re interested in, and then you need to contact them and express interest in working for them.
In many cases, the people that will be hired for these jobs are people that have worked as volunteers or are connected in some way through some other organization that share that interest with the organization in terms of the overall mission. A good portion has jobs advertised on their sites, but it’s important you contact them and set up a periodic contact. Check in with them every three or six months and express the fact that you’re still interested in them. Get familiar with the people hiring inside the public interest or non-profit organizations.
One thing to understand about public interest or non-profit organizations is that the people in hiring positions believe that when they hire you, in many cases they’re doing something that is sacred. They’re helping the mission of the organization. You need to spend time getting to know the people in charge of hiring and continue to express your interest. They will jump on things that look to them like you’re interested in what they do. If you have a history of volunteering for a certain organization, they need to know about that.
I meet people all the time and it’s fascinating to me that they’re volunteers or do this or that in their spare time. Most of the time, I only get that information after spending time talking to them because it’s not on their resume. They’ve buried it for some reason, not put it on their resume and it’s something they’re proud of, but nobody knows about it. That is the stupidest thing in the world when you’re applying to a public interest or non-profit job. You need to show them where your commitment is. It’s about commitment, your interest, and what you’ve done in terms of your interest in that organization. You really need to make sure that is coming out and it’s very visible on your resume.
Unlike any other type of job, you can’t track them down on websites. You need to go after and proactively market yourself to employers. You cannot wait for people to come to you or for the jobs to appear. You need to go out and proactively market. There is no other job where it’s more important you do that for.
I recommend cold calling employers when you develop a list. I recommend applying even if they don’t have jobs. I recommend applying again several months later, volunteering to get to know people inside the organization and getting very close to whoever is in charge of reviewing the resumes and hiring. That is what you need to do. If you have that commitment to work for a public interest or non-profit then you need to go that one step further.
Finding Nonprofits and Public Interest Organizations
Public interest or nonprofit jobs can be very difficult for the average person to get and therefore it is important for you to thoroughly understand the best way to track them down and how to find them. I would say that what you’re going to learn about today is going to take you above and beyond the top 1% of job seekers in terms of people looking for public interest and non-profit jobs.
One of the first things that I think makes finding public interest and non-profit jobs so exciting to me is the fact that they’re so poorly promoted. When you’re looking for a public interest or non-profit job, you’re rarely going to find them very well advertised. They’re typically not promoted well because public interest employers have no budget for promotion. Because of that, you need to know how to track them down and find them. You’re not going to find them advertised on major job boards or promoted in newspapers. You need to track them down yourself.
This does not mean they’re not available. There are plenty of these jobs, but you need to go to the employer for them. Most public interest and non-profit organizations do not have large budgets for promoting jobs, which is very important for you to understand. In my opinion, the job seeking methods I’m going to teach you are a major advantage.
Another point I want to make is that compared to other types of jobs for large companies, there are typically fewer openings. You’re just not going to see as many of these advertised as you’d see otherwise.
You would also be astonished at how many applications public interest employers receive for positions. They may literally receive thousands of applications, in some cases in different departments, for one position. The competition could be very stiff for a lot of these jobs. That goes especially for the highest profile non-profit or public interest companies.
With that said, let’s get into the best way of finding jobs. One of the best ways, in my opinion, is to use various lists, which we’ll get to in a moment.
I’ve worked with lots of people who have gotten public interest jobs in the past, and every person I’ve known who has gotten these jobs has tracked down and applied to employers directly regardless of whether they had a position open.
In the nonprofit and public interest sector, you must track down and apply directly to employers, every employer you like, regardless of whether or not they have a position. It is absolutely, 100% crucial that you do this. You cannot afford not to. Not only that, but you need to reapply quite often. You need to go to networking events from the organization you like, if possible. You need to potentially volunteer for the organization you want to work for. You need to call people and make sure they know who you are. In the non-profit realm, it’s exceptionally important that you be much more aggressive than you would ever be to track down a job. You want to show people that you’re part of the organization.
For the people that are in hiring roles in non-profit or public interest organizations, the most important thing for them typically is not going to be your pedigree. It’s going to be your commitment. Your commitment and desire to work for the employer is key.
Here are some lists of nonprofit organizations you might be interested in that I have put together for you:
I have provided the below lists to assist you in tracking down a nonprofit job public interest and nonprofit jobs. You can investigate each of these nonprofit and public interest employers and their websites for nonprofit jobs.
Complete Nonprofit Jobs List
Nonprofit Jobs By State
Selected List of Popular Nonprofit Employer Broken Down by Profession.
[Advocacy] Human Rights and Civil Liberties Nonprofit Jobs
Animal Rights Nonprofit Jobs
Land Conservation Nonprofit Jobs and the Environmental Nonprofit Jobs
General Emergency Relief Nonprofit Jobs
Refugees Nonprofit Jobs
Medical Assistance Nonprofit Jobs
Education, Research and Cultural Preservation Group Nonprofit Jobs
Health: Research, and Education Nonprofit Jobs
Support for Chronic Illnesses and Diseases Nonprofit Jobs
Cancer Support and Research Nonprofit Jobs
Support for Physical and Cognitive Disabilities Nonprofit Jobs
List of Nonprofit Organizations That Deal with Poverty Nonprofit Jobs
Feeding the Hungry Nonprofit Jobs
Promoting Self Sufficiency Nonprofit Jobs
Impoverished Children Nonprofit Jobs
Sanctity of Life Nonprofit Jobs
Senior Citizens Nonprofit Jobs
Supporting Military and Veterans Nonprofit Jobs
Supporting Fire Fighters and Police Nonprofit Jobs
Watchdog Groups Nonprofit Jobs
Children and Youth Nonprofit Jobs
Donate Toys to Needy ChildrenDonate Toys to Needy
Women Nonprofit Jobs
More Selected Categories of Nonprofit Job Employers
Another good way to find nonprofits you can work for is through directories. One of the best ways to find public interest and nonprofit employers is by using DMOZ.org. It’s exceptional.
DMOZ is going to provide you with public interest and non-profit/charity/philanthropy organizations. You can see tons of organizations for philanthropy to various non-profit resources, whether it’s associations or other places you can work. It’s fantastic in terms of how this information has been organized. It’s by country and by region. DMOZ does a good job of breaking down this information. I would look at that.
You can also find a number of job boards to look at. Here are some that I recommend.
NonprofitCrossing.com. This site researches public interest jobs from every source that it can find on the Internet. I think it is the best nonprofit site out there. It researches jobs on the websites of most of the nonprofit employers in the lists above and can save you a lot of research time.
Idealist.org. This is a very popular site for nonprofit jobs. The site has a good selection of jobs.
Granted.com. This site covers all major job industries and allows you to upload your resume or resumes and apply to many employers directly, simplifying the process of your job search. Nonprofit jobs are just one of the many types of jobs it features. Best of all, it is completely free for the job seeker to use.
Gig lets you upload your resume or resumes, import your profile from LinkedIn, or even create your own resume to submit to employers.
Position Announcement Listing Service (PALS). This is a popular site for philanthropy jobs.
Hound.com. This site tracks down jobs from employer websites. It is a very popular job aggregator and allows you to narrow down your search results for nonprofit jobs.
Here are some more nonprofit job sites I would recommend.
The big advice here is that you need to track down all of the sites where you’re applying directly to the employers. A lot of these employers are going to list their openings, but you should also be aggressively tracking down nonprofit positions. Job sites are good, but you have to do more than that in this industry. You need to have a passion for the subject matter and you need to work very hard to track down the jobs you are interested in.
When you’re trying to get your foot in the door, I recommend:
Finally, when you’re applying for jobs with public interest or nonprofit organizations, I can’t emphasize enough that you need to track down and apply directly to these employers. More so than any other type of employer, these employers do not have advertising budgets. They’re not actively going out and seeking people. They have lots of people who want to work for them who volunteer and actively court them. You need to be one of those people and a part of that game.