Happy New Year everyone!

New year’s is a time for reflection and promises. If you are interested in a career in the nonprofit sector, consider the following tips that will help you figure out your interests and skills.

1.  Reflect on 2009: Before you make plans to reinvent yourself, reflect on your accomplishments and struggles of 2009. What went well? What would you have changed? Why? How? What projects or opportunities presented themselves that you would like to pursue? What three steps do you need to take to work on those projects?

2.  Expand your skill set: What I love the most about the nonprofit sector is its diversity. There really is space for everyone, yet it takes time to discover what you enjoy professionally. You can expose yourself to different career paths and professions in the following ways:

  • Join a board: Whether it is a young professionals board, a governing or advisory board, board membership allows you to develop new connections and expose you to a different side of nonprofits. Depending on the size, type, and age of the board you can get hands on experience in everything including management, fundraising, marketing, and networking.  I found my board opportunity on BoardNet.
  • Volunteer: Is there a cause you want to explore or a type of job you are interested in? Consider volunteering your time in a skilled-service position. Idealist.org is a great place to start searching and if you are tech/web minded, Designism Connects allows you to create a profile and volunteer with nonprofits who post their needs on the website. Also feel free to reach out to organizations you like and offer to volunteer so you can gain some experience in the field.
  • Learn someone else’s job: This is how I got into development work: I walked over to the development office and asked them what the heck they were doing? They were always asking me (a program manager) for pictures, stories, and stats so I wanted to learn more about what they did with them, and how I could help. Take a similar approach. Consider the various positions are your current org, chat with someone in that position, and offer to help.
  • Take a class: Introductory classes in finance, project management, fundraising, and other areas can give you the theory and framework to guide your work. Also, check out certificate programs in leadership and fundraising for comprehensive understanding of those areas. I got a certificate in nonprofit fundraising from LaSalle University in Philadelphia and still use the materials and apply much of what I learned to my job.

3.  Jump into social media: While much of what I have written about social media focuses on actively building your reputation, social media is also a great way to learn about the sector. You can stay up to date on job opportunities, events, conversations and connections. Check out these organizations on twitter and social change resources for social change job seekers.

4.  Get a side project: Your job wont be the only place where you can grow professionally. Working on side projects—paid or unpaid—that you design and control gives you the freedom to pursue what you love. Whether you start a blog, do some consulting, get a group of your friends together to mentor on a regular basis, have an independent project that you are coordinating and leading .

5.  Develop your network: Meet people on and off line. While dwelling online it is easy to think the whole world is there tweeting and facebooking with you. No, they aren’t and the ones who are, you probably don’t know many of them. So attend conferences, meetups, or other events. If people are near you, ask to meet up for coffee or schedule your own gathering.

6.  Step out of the sector: Social change is not limited to people in nonprofits and working at a nonprofit, I’ve been amazed at the different people and organizations that come together to make a difference. Consider engaging your local chamber of commerce to learn about businesses in the area, or look at the businesses, business people, and government agencies that serve nonprofits you like and connect with them by reading about their missions, interests, resources, and possible connections.

7.  Read! You should be aware of best practices, trends, ideas, and controversy happening in your cause and in the sector in general. Staying abreast of what’s happening with your cause, the sector, and your peers will better inform your work. Look at nonprofit.alltop.com for some leading blogs and thinkers in the field. And as much I love the internet, nothing replaces curling up with a good book. Hit up your local library and browse or look at the curriculum for interesting classes at local colleges and read the books listed.

The emphasis when trying to develop your career is learning. Keeping your mind and opportunities open while pushing yourself gives you room to grow.

Like this post? Check out these other posts for professional development in the nonprofit sector.

Social media resources for the young social change job seeker in NYC

5 Nonprofit Career Exploration Tips for College Students

Getting a Good Start at a Nonprofit

Organizations say you need to have passion.  But what does passion look like?

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