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Holly's Helpful Hints: How To Start Your Nonprofit Career

Graduation season is upon us. Soon a fresh new group of bright-eyed nonprofit professionals will enter the workforce, filled with passion for the work and driven to change the world. A few weeks ago I asked the Community to share tips they wish they had known when they started their nonprofit careers. I've decided to take those tips (and a few of my own) and share them as an open letter to all of our new nonprofit colleagues. Feel free to hum inspirational graduation music as you read this:
Dear New Colleague,

Welcome to the world of philanthropy. I know you're feeling invincible right now and can't wait to start changing the world. Remember those feelings because it is that passion that will see you through all the ups and downs that come with working in the nonprofit and/or philanthropic sector. While I have worked in the nonprofit world, I am by no means an expert. However, I do get to spend all day talking to people who are. One day I asked them to share advice they would have given themselves when they were standing where you are today. And they came through, as they always do, with wisdom and humor, candor and whimsy.

I am so pleased to be able to now pass that along to you.

I know you've just spent years of your life in school but I hope you're not tired of learning quite yet because the nonprofit world is a place for forever learners. The learning just might look a little different now. Look for people who have the same job as you, or has a job you aspire to, and connect with them. Get involved in young professionals networks and professional organizations. Find a mentor, an advisor, a hero and build a relationship with them. Seek out continuing education in the form of networking events, lunch and learns, and other informal opportunities.  Never be afraid to ask a question - no matter how dumb it may make you feel. And pay attention to your new coworkers. They are a wealth of information.

The nonprofit world is all about networking.

The amazing thing about working in the nonprofit sector is that the work you do can truly change the world. But don't expect it to make you rich. You probably won't buy your first home when your friends in other sectors do and you may not be jetting off on exotic vacations every year. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't learn how to be an advocate for yourself. Learn how to ask for what you need. In the nonprofit world, that could include your salary, opportunities for professional development, or even time off to help you maintain your work-life balance. Don't be afraid to ask.

The worst that can happen is you're told 'no.'

The nonprofit word is full of opportunities to grow and hone your professional skills. You will be given opportunities to do things you've never done before. You'll have 'great and brilliant' ideas that you absolutely have to pursue. Don't be afraid to take risks. Challenge yourself. Push your organization. But also understand how to prioritize and how to recognize success because there are more amazing ideas than there are hours in a day. It's easy to lose yourself in the mission.

Don't lose sight of who you are.

You probably went into a career with a nonprofit because their mission spoke to a personal passion. Remember that. Be willing to fight for that.  Fight for your clients. Fight for your mission. There are days you will feel discouraged. And you may think that the work you are doing doesn't matter. But remember, just because you haven't solved all the world's problems doesn't mean that the work you do isn't important. Or transformative. If you're looking for inspiration, narrow your focus from the world for a moment and down to a single individual. Or a single entity. And focus on that. A smiling child. A full belly. A newly dug well. A rescued pup.

You are making a difference. 

Congratulations on the start of what will be a truly rewarding professional journey. We're all rooting for you. And we're all here to help.

Now go out there and start changing the world.
P.S. You could start building that professional network right now by visiting our original tips thread and connecting with all the amazing professionals who shared their wisdom for this post.
Posted by Holly Herbert on Apr 27, 2017 9:00 AM America/New_York

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Nicely done :)
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 10:21 AM EDT
Love this!
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 01:16 PM EDT
Great advice!
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 01:19 PM EDT
I love the advice.
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 01:32 PM EDT
Good job.  Networking is key.
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 01:41 PM EDT
I wish that I'd seen this when I started 14 years ago. Not a lot of networking going on them, just an occasioal regional user group meeting. Times have changed for the better.
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 02:45 PM EDT
Well said
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 03:16 PM EDT
Perfect timing.
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 03:31 PM EDT
Love it! Like others have said...well written and a great compilation of some many pieces of wisdom shared.
  • Posted Thu 27 Apr 2017 03:33 PM EDT
Great and welcoming advice to the nonprofit world Holly. 
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 02:47 PM EDT
This is wonderful! 
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 11:41 AM EDT
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 01:23 PM EDT
Awesome letter with such great advice!
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 02:14 PM EDT
We truly are all here to help. Take advantage of the online forums and ask questions - ask LOTS of questions. We will all learn from the questions you ask.
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 02:25 PM EDT
Holly would you mind if I shared with with some staff members? I would certainly cite my source!
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 02:48 PM EDT
Wish I'd read that 20 years ago!
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 03:36 PM EDT
Eileen, you are welcome to share this with whomever you'd like! Thanks for reading and sharing! 
  • Posted Fri 28 Apr 2017 04:23 PM EDT
I forwarded this to my staffer who graduates in two weeks. Wonderful advice from the Community.
  • Posted Sat 29 Apr 2017 01:17 PM EDT
Holly, I found this to be quite helpful to share with AFP members that are new to fund development. Thank you for the GREAT letter!
  • Posted Mon 01 May 2017 02:37 PM EDT
Great letter and advice.
  • Posted Wed 03 May 2017 01:32 PM EDT
This is a great description of non-profit work and a good reminder to those who have been in the non-profit world for a long time.  Thanks for sharing!
  • Posted Wed 10 May 2017 01:16 PM EDT
Holly, I shared this. What a great letter!
  • Posted Wed 10 May 2017 05:23 PM EDT
  • Posted Tue 16 May 2017 11:44 AM EDT