3 Steps to Progressing in Your Nonprofit Career
by Mazarine Treyz
Do you ever feel stuck in your job?? Most of us have felt that way at one time or another, particularly if you’re working for a nonprofit. It can be frustrating to see other people around you being promoted, or to be overlooked for outside candidates when the time comes to hire for a higher-level position.
How can you move on up in the nonprofit world?
What title or duties have you been building toward? Start by fixing your sights on the position you really want to be in, and then you can lay out the skills and experience you’ll need to get there.
Luckily, even when you feel like your career is going nowhere, I’ve got 3 key tips for you to start getting more satisfied in your job, NOW. All you need is a pen, paper, and some time for reflection—so let’s hit it!
1. DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS
In any interview, they’ll ask you, “What are your strengths?” Before you can answer, you need to know what your strengths are and how they apply to the role you’re looking for.
A good place to start for any nonprofit professional is by reading a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham.
The book suggests that you take the Gallup StrengthsFinder test. This online assessment was created over 30 years, from surveying 30 million people. They found 34 different main strengths. This test will help you find your 5 main strengths.
Sure, this test can be helpful, but if you’re short on time, here’s one of the most powerful suggestions you can take from the book:
Make a list of all of your current skills and duties
- Make a column for all the stuff you absolutely love to do and can't wait to find out more about.
- Make another column for the stuff you are OK with doing, but feel kind of ambivalent about.
- Make a third column for the stuff you absolutely can't stand.
Based on what you love to do (which often overlaps with what you're good at) what sort of job should you have?
For example, if you love writing grants and throwing events, is there an events director role currently open in your organization? If not, can you create a proposal to get that position for yourself?
This approach helps you feel satisfied at work, and can also help your organization as a whole. When you work to put your entire nonprofit team in their areas of greatest strength, you can raise more funds than you ever thought possible. For example, nonprofit marketing expert Kishshana Palmer put this into practice with her team and they tripled their event revenue, from $100K to $300K. Imagine if you did this in every area of your organization!
2. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Now that you’ve decided the direction you want your career to take, it’s time to take a look back at what you’ve already achieved.
List your accomplishments
Note down the achievements you’re proud of, from both your current role and your previous jobs.
- How did that accomplishment align with your strategic plan, or your organization's mission?
- What did you learn from the experience professionally, and what did you learn from it personally?
- What was the tangible outcome? In fundraising this is easy to track—it could be the dollars raised, an increase in the number of donors, or an increase in donor retention. With other kinds of nonprofit jobs, this could be an increase in employee retention and satisfaction, or increasing engagement from stakeholders—however you measure success!
3. START CAREER PATHING
If step 1 has helped you set what job title you want, and step 2 has outlined where your skills and experiences are at the moment, it’s time to look at what additional skills and experiences you’ll need to get that title.
Career pathing is the process of planning how to progress in your career, either within or beyond your current organization. In short, it’s the path from where you are now to where you want to be.
Career pathing will help you figure out what you’re missing, and what the next steps are in closing the gap between your current job and your dream job. It will also help you tell your story in a more coherent way, which will set you up to write a great cover letter or to sell yourself well in an interview.
I have another article on Career Pathing here, if you’d like to learn more. I also help people make career paths and tie all of their disparate experiences into a coherent narrative for cover letters and job interviews. Check out http://wildnonprofitleadership.com/career for more.
About Mazarine Treyz is the CEO of Wild Woman Fundraising, and the author of Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide.
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