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Why You Should Volunteer Before Committing to a Nonprofit Career


By Elizabeth Pun

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The nonprofit sector is attractive to young professionals for obvious reasons. People seek careers that are meaningful and rewarding, and they want to affect change for something they deeply believe in. Nonprofit work offers that opportunity.

But it’s also no secret that working at a nonprofit can be incredibly demanding. The time, labor, and emotional commitments are no small feat.

The best way to find out if a nonprofit career is right for you is to dip your toes in the water before making the dive.

Nonprofit professionals on Twitter agree. Here’s the advice they have for young professionals looking to start a career in the nonprofit sector.





The counsel remains consistent across the board: get involved in nonprofit work before taking any other steps. Fortunately, the sector makes it easy to get a taste for those who are interested.

It’s as simple as volunteering or applying for an internship—two experiences that can really kick start your career. Here’s why.

1. You Can Introduce Yourself

Volunteering is an excellent way to get a taste of what it looks like to work at a nonprofit. It allows you to learn straight from the people already working in the field you’re interested in. Working alongside staffers can give you valuable insights about how they got started, how they landed in their current role, and how they carry out their work.

Volunteering can also help jumpstart your professional network. It’s a great way to get your foot in the industry as the people you work with (and for) can be a wealth of knowledge when it comes to job openings, networking groups, or contacts in the field. Start building your network of nonprofit professionals and social entrepreneurs now, and your connections can help you move your nonprofit career forward down the road.

2. You Can Develop a Wide Range of Skills

There are a variety of skill sets needed to operate a nonprofit. Whether you’re interested in HR, accounting, or fundraising, volunteering or interning gives you the opportunity to learn the gamut of roles and tasks without jumping between jobs. You can gain experience in different departments and try out various roles to see where you best fit.

As it goes, the same could be said for new staffers as well. Because many nonprofit professionals wear a number of different hats, you’ll more than likely have the chance to learn about other job functions in your organization, along with your own. This can help you identify more closely what type of work interests you most.

3. You Can Buff Up Your Resume

The typical process of moving up the nonprofit career ladder is no different than any other sector. Like any other industry, nonprofit organizations are looking to hire candidates that have sought experience and built specific skillsets. According to a 2013 Idealist survey, 76 percent of nonprofit hiring managers say that prior experience (job, internship, or volunteer work) is important to a candidate’s chances of getting recruited. Take the time to gain experience, and you won’t just learn what work you enjoy best—you’ll increase your likelihood of getting hired.

Nonprofits are driven to make a mark on the world. As such, the people who stand behind them carry out incredibly meaningful and rewarding work. If you’re looking to start your nonprofit career, working for an organization can equip you with the skills and experience necessary to land the right job for you.

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