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5 Entrepreneurial Techniques to Drive Your Nonprofit Career

A person typing on a laptop.

The cutthroat world of corporations may seem light-years away from the good intentions of the nonprofit sector. And while the private sector can learn a lot from the nonprofit sector, like compassion, social responsibility and justice, you can enhance your nonprofit career by learning the strategies used to run businesses and steer them towards success.

In today’s ever-evolving labour market, thinking like an entrepreneur can help you make strides in a fiercely competitive space. According to LinkedIn co-founder, Reid Hoffman and his co-author, Ben Casnocha in their bestseller, The Start-Up of You, everyone is the CEO of a company of one - You Incorporated - and we need to run our careers as if we’re running a business. If getting a foot in the door of an NGO rather than starting a Fortune 500 company is more your thing, you can still apply these five entrepreneurial techniques to make your nonprofit job search profitable.

Think strategically

The old cliche “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail” is as true for your job search as it is for anything. Get strategic. Plan everything, from where you want to be in six months’ time to where you want to be in ten years, but be flexible and open to new ideas and approaches. Be intentional about what you want from your career and you’ll increase your chances of success exponentially.

Action / Hack: Take a few hours to sit down and plot your career. What are your job search and career objectives? What steps do you need to achieve them and when? How? Research and analyze your options. Don’t be afraid of data. Let the numbers guide you on everything from what jobs are in demand to where the jobs are. Once you’ve written your plan, be sure to revisit it every month so that you can assess and adapt it based on the evidence.

Be disruptive

Innovation isn’t just the domain of the private sector. Just because things have always been done one way doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look for new ways to do them. If anything, this should inspire you to try to do things differently. This kind of counterintuitive thinking is at the heart of being an entrepreneur. You may be afraid to challenge the status quo, particularly when you’re just starting out, but the future belongs to the brave. Ever hear about the woman who so wanted to work for Airbnb that she created an online resume that was a replica of the brand’s website? Not only did she do that, but she took it a step further, conducting research and drafting a white paper that highlighted Airbnb’s much-needed growth in Middle Eastern countries. Take a leaf out of this inspirational jobseeker’s book. Don’t be afraid to be radical. Look for ways to shake up your nonprofit sector or organization. Get creative to get ahead.

Action / Hack: Identify the organizations you’d like to work for. Then dig deep. Do some investigating. What problems can you find in the organization’s or a particular department’s approach? What solutions can you offer? Be a problem-identifier as well as a problem-solver and you’ll be well on your way to nonprofit success.

Develop a competitive advantage

The idea of competition may not sit easily with someone looking to get into the nonprofit sector, but the reality is that the job market is ultra-competitive and you need to elevate yourself above the thousands of other applicants who are vying for the same positions as you. Just as brands and entrepreneurs identify and hone their Unique Selling Point (USP), so should you. What makes you different and why? What can you bring to the table?

In my book, Get Hired! Recession-Proof Strategies for Finding a Job Now, I recommend a proactive, five-step approach to getting noticed and standing out from the crowd:

  • Amplify your achievements
  • Capitalize on your experience, knowledge and skills
  • Quantify. Value yourself, your skills, your experience and what you bring to the table in numerical terms
  • Specialize in your field
  • Diversify your network

Action / Hack: Using the five bullet points above, identify your USP. In what ways can you capitalize on your knowledge and experience, quantify your achievements and diversify your network? How do the answers to these questions make you unique? When you’ve done this, you’ll be in a position to play to your strengths when presenting yourself to employers on paper and in person.

Ask yourself, “what are the benefits an organization will gain by hiring me and how can I sell those benefits to them?”

Invest in yourself

You’ve probably spent tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition, but education doesn’t end at graduation. In fact, many would argue that it’s when you leave the classroom that the learning really begins. There are many ways you can continue broadening your mind once you’ve left the campus behind. The best entrepreneurs invest in themselves and their teams. They recognise the importance of continually learning to keep them ahead in the game. Stephane Kasriel, the CEO of Upwork, the world’s largest online marketplace for freelancers, stresses the necessity of lifelong learning in today’s job market. “What you're learning at university today won’t be relevant in ten years. What you should learn at university is learning to learn, and learning to build yourself as an entrepreneur.”

Action / Hack: Gift yourself the time to better yourself. Find out what skills are needed in your desired sector and go all out to get them. Research ways in which you can gain deeper knowledge of your field through books, magazines and online courses. Of course, practical experience is also of great value. Volunteer with a nonprofit and add a hands-on dimension to your learning.

Start your own nonprofit

Finally, the ultimate in nonprofit entrepreneurialism is to start your own organization. Fancy yourself as the next Scott Harrison? Then just do it. There are many pressing issues that could do with a compassionate entrepreneurial approach, like the global refugee crisis, climate change and food security, and economic and educational inequality. If you have the will, the skill and the business acumen, or are willing to learn, then why not consider stepping out on your own either as a nonprofit or a fully-fledged social entrepreneur?

Action / Hack: Check out this list of five questions to ask yourself if you’re considering starting a nonprofit. In search of literary inspiration? Read A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn or The Frugal Innovator: Creating Change on a Shoestring Budget.

There you have it. Now apply these techniques and see if you reap the dividends by securing the nonprofit career you deserve.

About the Author: Sylvia Arthur is a writer, communications consultant and digital nomad. Her book, Get Hired: Recession-Proof Strategies for Finding a Job Now is available from Amazon as an eBook and in print. In her spare time, she likes to think up ideas for making the world a better place in the hope that one day she’ll find the time to execute them.

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