The Advantages and Difficulties of a Foundation Job Search

Kambria Johnson

Let’s begin with the advantages of foundation job searching:

Foundation Job Seeking 101; first, it’s always a good idea to understand the challenges and benefits of working for a foundation/nonprofit…

(1) They are appealing to work for because they are mission-driven and provide a sense of doing good.

You can work with someone you care about at a foundation. And as a result (during the job-search stage), they expect you to provide more than just a resume match.

To be considered for a position, you must demonstrate a personality match as well as a demonstrated passion for their mission.

Foundation employers are interested in your extracurricular activities as well.

Bottom line: foundations are looking for people who are as passionate about their mission as they are.

This will help you as long as you are active in pursuing your interests, but in situations where job seekers have been passive about volunteering or working for such a purpose, this will work against you.

(2) Another significant advantage is “the people” in the sector.

Where else can you find people who are progressive, open to change, and concerned about their communities?

In general, foundation employers genuinely care about their employees and are usually amenable to committee decision making.

This is not the same as a for-profit company. For-profit corporations are traditionally top-down decision makers and do not “discuss” their decisions openly before they are made. This is both a great strength and a great challenge. As a result, expect the hiring process to take a little longer.

Though the process is time-consuming, it provides stability, dependability, and employee buy-in. Things to consider when considering foundation leaders are accountable to boards and must frequently justify their decisions. Another advantage of seeking differences in the foundation sector is that it allows us to work passionately in an area without appearing like a “fanatical jobseeker.”

If you approached a for-profit with as much direct experience as many foundation job seekers do, you’d be labeled a stalker or someone looking for personal gain. Try telling a Finance Director at Gap Inc. that you saw them speak at the most recent conference event, that you volunteered at their two most recent gala/events since 2012, that you met their personal assistant at an art show last week, that you have read the last three publications they have written, that you are very dedicated to what they do, and that you really want to work with them. They will either be afraid of you or expect you to do their laundry.

Foundations are distinct. You will be expected to network in their field, read their works, meet their employees, and volunteer at their events. In fact, it is the quickest way to get hired at one.

In the foundation sector, unlike for-profit corporations, the information you need to secure a job lead is readily available. People always say that getting a job is all about networking. Finding the best job for you, for better or worse, often comes down to knowing the right people. Maintain relationships from previous jobs, internships, and volunteer experiences.” Having the right volunteer experience and approach is thus a strong way in.

Remember that in the foundation world, when their events are and how to get involved with an organization are much better publicized.

Each of these are chances for you to get your foot in the door.

So, go to their website, and you’ll find a plethora of entry points.

Normally, information on how to volunteer, as well as the Executive Director’s email address, can be found right there.

The difficulties of looking for foundation jobs:

(1) Identifying and committing to the position for which you are best suited. (RECRUITERS SEE THIS ALL THE TIME!) You will always be employed if you can choose a position in which you are interested and stick with it.

Many people say, “Wow, I’d be great at event planning,” but they only stay in the position (if they can get it) for a year to three years on average.

This is also true for Grant Writers; why are they in such high demand? This is due to the fact that most people do not live in the area or only dabble in their creation.

The key is to find a position/area that you are best suited for and stick with it.

This is the key to your professional success, but it is also the most difficult decision you will have to make.

Don’t go back and forth between development and programs.

Don’t start with operations and work your way up to marketing.

These leaps are extremely difficult to execute.

Decide what you want to do today and get started; if you don’t have enough experience to be paid, volunteer.

If you are a senior executive who is not currently employed, you should consider joining a board.

(2) Choosing and adhering to a broad area of interest as well as a broad mission or niche within the foundation sector.

Every day, job seekers are surprised when they are not chosen for a position despite having placed second or third in the interview process.

I’d say that 8 out of 10 times it’s because someone else has prior exact industry experience in the position.

So, if you work in education, stay in education; if you work in a religious organization, stay in religion.

Of course, people get tired of it and want to see a change. Finding a niche and sticking to it is the most difficult aspect of foundation job hunting.

Remember that you are most qualified to work in the field you are currently in, so choose your positions and paths wisely.

(3) Although we are very diverse in ethnicity in the foundation sector, we are not always diverse in beliefs within each organization. In some ways, this can be constricting.

Because we are mission-driven organizations and most foundations hire people who morally agree with their actions, we may be less exposed to outside beliefs and competitive information.

Organizations typically hire individuals who are aligned with their mission and do not hire disinterested perspectives.

This is also why having an active board is so important for foundations, and why we hear from executive directors/CEOs in the recruiter sector, “I don’t want a yes person.”

This is less of an issue in the for-profit sector. Many larger for-profit corporations actually require disinterested perspectives and stockholders.

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