How nonprofit hiring is different from for-profit hiring

Three key differences

The logistics of nonprofit hiring differ in three key ways from public and for-profit hiring practices. First, since nonprofits usually have a limited budget for job postings and recruitment, nonprofit openings are harder to find. Second, unlike other sectors, nonprofits don’t usually recruit and follow a hiring calendar. Third, nonprofits often look internally first and then to other nonprofits in the community next when hiring for new positions. This means that many job openings are never publicized.

While it is harder to find a central nonprofit job posting location, it is not impossible to stay up-to-date. Many nonprofits (especially smaller ones) only post on their own websites, on local free job sites, and in local newspapers. Larger nonprofits utilize resources like, as well as their own organizations’ websites and local free job websites. A lack of centralized job posting locations makes it all the more important to know the local nonprofit community (organizations, networking contacts, and local resources).

Start early

Therefore, nonprofit human resources professionals overwhelmingly agree that the earlier you start volunteering, interning, and networking with nonprofits that interest you, the better. The more exposure you can get to an organization, the more chances you have to get a sense of its culture and acclimate yourself to its operational style.

Early involvement benefits both the volunteer and the organization. For the volunteer or intern, it allows you to get involved with the organization to see if you are a good fit with the culture and that you share a passion for their mission and activities. For the staff at an organization, they can likewise see how well you fit in and how dedicated you are to the work you do with them. The bottom line is that the more experience you have with a particular organization or cause, the more favorably a nonprofit employer will look upon your resume.

For those without the experience of volunteering or interning with the same organization for a significant period of time, there are two possible approaches to bolstering your nonprofit involvement. The first approach is to look back over your volunteer history and find a common trend in your service. Ask yourself:

  • What is the greatest commonality in my volunteerism? Is it a particular cause? • A certain structure of organization? A specific demographic served?
  • Have I served similar functions within different organizations for a long time?•
  • Is my service mainly with faith-based initiatives? Advocacy organizations? • Direct-service opportunities?

By focusing your networking, cover letter, resume, and interview language to reflect these common trends in your volunteer history, you can better demonstrate to employers your commitment to the cause, as well as the clear trajectory of your social and professional choices (even if they did not seem clear at the time!).

This was originally published in our guide for sector switchers.



    • Chris
    • April 12, 2014

    Great. Now how about some advice for the late-20 something with an eclectic and not unimpressive resume, but no non-profit background?

      • Steve Kas
      • June 29, 2019

      In my experience, they don’t escape it. Indeed, to promote diversity and incestuous staffing, I think every progressive public-interest nonprofit worth working for posts every job opening. In many organizations, promotions don’t even exist as we used to understand them. So anyway, I think that part of the article seems to be based only on the author’s and Idealist’s interest in promoting a mystique around nonprofit staffing, which requires relying on the “experts” at idealist to understand.

  1. Pingback: Strengthening On-Ramps for Entry-Level Talent: Four Tips for Social Sector Organizations | Sense & Sustainability

    • Abdul Sattar
    • December 2, 2017

    Thank you for your encouraging and supportive language for starting a non profit job.

    • Dorothy
    • February 16, 2019

    Tax exempt nonprofit organizations, agencies, etc are public by IRS designation, thus, Transparency is required. How does a “PUBLIC” nonprofit escape being REQUIRED to post a job opening?

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