If you want to work at a non-profit, the chances are you are committed to making a difference. After all, you’re not in it for the money! Showing this passion is important when writing your resume, but it’s just as important to demonstrate that you can make an impact.
Non-profits are generally working to support a cause or make a difference in some area of public life, but in order to make that difference they have to raise money and control costs. In other words, they have to operate like a business. This is important to keep in mind as you put your resume together.
Your resume must show non-profit managers or Boards that you care about what you do – that you are driven by a passion for their mission. This is especially important if you are looking to leave a corporate job to move into the non-profit world.
Your target employers know that the work is often hard, sometimes dispiriting and never well-paid. They look for passion because they know that’s what will make you stick out the bad days.
This means that you should customize your resume each time you send it out to make sure that it directly speaks to the mission of the non-profit.
But keep it balanced.
If you resume is filled with too much fluffy idealism, potential employers will worry that you don’t have what it takes. Passion for the cause isn’t enough. They need hard-working pragmatists who can make things happen. You will have to navigate bureaucracies, bring people together, resolve conflicts, handle rejection and most of all, do a lot with very little money.
Therefore, you need to strike a balance between showing commitment to the cause and displaying some hard-nosed business savvy.
The way to keep this balance is to stress results. If you have business experience, don’t shy away from that. Make your successes a central part of your resume. If you increased sales, tell them about it. If you cut costs, explain by how much and how you did it.
These results will demonstrate to the managers reading your resume that you can deliver for them.
Show that you are resourceful
Non-profits are vastly different from one another in many ways, but the one thing they all share is a need to do more with less. Most are strapped for cash, and even the organizations with lots of money, like the Gates Foundation, require their projects to run on tight budgets in order to make sure that most of the money goes towards making an impact.
So your resume should highlight times when you have achieved results while keeping costs low, or come up with creative low-cost solutions that have increased sales, or improved productivity or cut costs.
Usually I advise people to keep their resume very focused on a narrow set of skills, but non-profit resumes are a little different. In most cases, the successful candidate will be handling multiple responsibilities and you will often need to help on a project that isn’t actually your responsibility.
So if you have a variety of skills, make sure you say that. For example, if everyone in your office comes to you for computer help, mention that fact.
Or if you know how to design flyers and brochures even though you work in accounting, put it in your resume. One of those could be exactly the skill your target employer is looking for in addition to your core functions.
The best non-profit resumes strike a perfect balance between passionate idealism and a strong focus on results. Get this right and you won’t have any trouble scoring interviews.