What are your nonprofit career goals? Are you considering making a career change within the sector? Or do you see yourself advancing in your organization over the next few years? Either way, it is important to set goals.


Bridgespan and former Bridgespan partnerWayne Luke discuss the steps to building your career in the nonprofit sector with Building a Nonprofit Career Path.


1. Focus on your current job.

Do your best at your current position. If you are thinking about trying to advance within your organization or are thinking about a career change, doing your best now will pay off in the end.

2. Ask yourself questions.

Do you work better independently or cooperatively? What skills do you bring to the sector?

Are you doing this for you or for what everyone wants? Think about the type of position you would enjoy in the sector.

3. Establish goals.

Create a list of 4 or 5 general goals that you would like to accomplish in the future. Avoid salaries and titles but do include what you expect to achieve in the nonprofit sector. Luke suggests goals such as “I need to be in a situation where I am constantly learning” or “I need to report to someone I respect and can learn from.”

4. Avoid Job Titles.

Focus on the job description rather than the job title. Every organization differs, so job titles and responsibilities vary. If the description matches your goals, go for it. It may have never been something you thought of or considered.

5. Opportunities don’t have to fit squarely with your experience.

Reach outside your comfort zone and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You may lack some of the required skills, but be honest and take the chance. As long as the skills are present elsewhere in the team, success and expectations won’t be grueling if you are prepared to try something new and challenge yourself.

6. Have access to recommendations.

It’s always important to have recommendations from professionals who know you and your work habitats. Bridgespan states that 85 percent of senior job positions are filled by personnel recommendation or connection.

7. Re-evaluate your career goals periodically.

As you learn and grow within the nonprofit sector, re-evaluate your career goals. Determine whether your goals are in line with your current life situation or within the environment in which you’d like to work.

8. Align your resources.

Create your important group of outside resources for honest feedback. These individuals can range from mentors to entire peer leadership groups as you navigate your career.


Along with the 8 steps above, consider Laura Gassner Otting’s approaches featured in Getting Ahead in the Mission-Driven Sector: Creating Your Nonprofit Career Trajectory:


  • Think about what skills you have and what skills you need to advance.


  • Join a nonprofit board to network, build knowledge and skills, and gain experience in a role you enjoy. This is a great way to learn about nonprofit governance and aspects that may differ from your professional niche.


  • Get a mentor in the sector to give you guidance.


  • Build a personal brand and get noticed. Dedicate some time to this to use social media and technology as well as personal connections.


  • Contact and keep in contact with appropriate headhunters and job search resources.