On Wednesday, ConnectVA’s YNPN RVA Leadership Team participated as panelists in “Nonprofit Careers Revealed” at VCU – providing insight, tips and advice to students interested in the nonprofit sector.
Represented on the panel were Tiffany Patton, YNPN Program Chair and Site Coordinator at Thompson Middle School for Communities in Schools of Richmond; David Lefebvre, YNPN Past President and Development Director for Greater Richmond SCAN; and Laura Pilati, YNPN Collaborative Programs Lead and Program & Operations Coordinator for Nonprofit Learning Point. Also on the panel to share their experience was Cat Anthony, Operations Director for Sportable and Jessica Ramirez with the National MS Society.
When asked, “how did your career path lead you to your current position” the panelists had some similar experiences – mainly being that most of them volunteered in the nonprofit sector, held internships and tried out different positions to find the type of work and what organization was most appealing to them. Tiffany Patton chimed in that she found her current position by figuring out what she didn’t want to do – starting off as a radiation therapy major, which made her too emotional. She then changed her major to Community Health Education with a minor in Nonprofit Studies, started working at the YMCA part-time, trying out new roles and responsibilities and eventually being hired on as Director of Childcare and Camp.
The nonprofit professionals shared with the group some transferable skills that are critical to working in the sector and “communication skills” came out on top – both verbal and written. They explained that being able to talk on the phone, communicate with different types of people and being able to clearly articulate your cause in writing is essential to success! Laura even chimed in that, “don’t let anyone tell you just because you were an English major, you won’t be able to find a job – that’s completely untrue in the nonprofit sector because your writing skills are critical, especially in smaller nonprofits, where you may be asked to help with marketing, when there isn’t a person dedicated to it”.
Another major skill you need to have is the ability to multi-task – no one day is the same working at a nonprofit and you may end up wearing “many hats” and get to try out many different roles, unlike other sectors. But you need to make sure you’re organized – as many of the panelists stated. David mentioned that in one day he might be writing a grant, talking to a potential donor, planning an event or even helping a client over the phone!
There are many myths, when it comes to working in the nonprofit sector. Cat chimed in to say, “Yes, we are nonprofit by tax designation, but we operate like a business!” David has even had to dispel the myth that even though he works for a nonprofit, he doesn’t work for free! The panelists explained, that even though many nonprofit professionals don’t have an incredible high salary, many local nonprofits will offer flexible schedules, promote a strong work-life balance and offer benefits like 30 days of paid vacation a year (although, with such a busy schedule, sometimes it’s hard to find the time to take off!).
The VCU students were very curious to figure out ways that they could break into the sector – and overwhelmingly the panelists said, use your resume and cover letter as a tool – try and show “quantifiable descriptions” wherever you can and know the organization and job description! The best way to get your foot in the door is to network, network, network! Quite often in the nonprofit sector, it’s who you know, not what you know – don’t be afraid to seek out advice from a mentor, go to events where you can meet and talk to folks in the sector and volunteer!
Are you looking to start a career in the nonprofit sector? Then join us on 2/19 at VCU for the Regional Nonprofit Career & Internship Fair. Find more information here.