Survey says: What's the state of the nonprofit sector today?


Screen shot from the Nonprofit Finance Fund website

Do you have a few minutes to fill out a survey? If so, you can help the Nonprofit Finance Fund understand what’s happening now, in order to better advocate on behalf of the sector’s needs. The survey gets a good deal of attention from funders, media, and nonprofits themselves, so it’s up to all of us* to make it strong and accurate.

Watch the “awesome video” about why the Nonprofit Finance Fund is conducting its State of the Nonprofit Sector survey for the third year in a row. (If you prefer, there’s the “moving drama” version or the “terrifying horror” version to watch instead; to tell the truth, all three are pretty much the same, but the different soundtracks are good for a smile.) The videos give a glimpse of the results from the 2010 survey and look ahead to what can be learned from people who complete the 2011 survey between now and February 15th.

You can take the survey at

Want to view the results from 2010? The full results from last year are in this file (pdf).

*If you’re not the right person to be taking this survey, you might pass along the link to someone at a nonprofit you care about who can answer the questions. The more data from the real world the survey collects, the better the information the Nonprofit Finance Fund can offer to funders, policy makers, and anyone else who cares about this work.

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Great News! Increase in Job Postings

By Flickr user Nic McPhee (Creative Commons)

News reports have been pointing to signs that we are finally coming out of this recession, and the numbers on Idealist seem to agree.

In the beginning of 2008, before the economic crisis hit, an average of about 5,000 jobs were posted to Idealist every month. The number of job listings on our site started to drop off in the fall of 2008, and hit a low point in February 2009, when only 2,811 jobs were posted.

But the numbers have been increasing again lately, and in June 2010, our site had 4,659 job listings — almost back to our pre-recession rate. We’re not qualified to draw any broad conclusions about the economy or the nonprofit sector, but this news is definitely encouraging.

Click here to search for nonprofit and government job listings, and check out our other free resources for job seekers. Good luck!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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[Governance Matters] In an Economic Downturn, What's a Nonprofit Board to Do?

Bridge in Tacoma by Flickr user David Sadler (Creative Commons)

NYU Professor Paul Light spoke at the state conference for nonprofit board members organized by The Nonprofit Center in Tacoma, in my home state of Washington, on October 30th. He bluntly described four possible futures for nonprofits in the midst of a sharp economic downturn:

  • Wait for a miracle. “Believe it if you must, but know that the recovery is going to take a long time to reach far into the nonprofit community.”
  • Wither. Shed programs and activities in a random way that causes the least disruption today. “Do that if you want, but don’t be surprised if opportunities come along and you’re not ready to pounce.”
  • Winnow. End low-impact programs. Mothball activities that might be revived when times change. Look around for someone who might take over your work. Hunker down.
  • Rejuvenate. Take a hard look at everything you do. Preserve core value for the community you serve. Identify your organization’s value proposition and focus energy on doing those things that answer the question “Why us? Why do we exist?” Make tough choices now and you’ll see productivity go up and morale—believe it or not—improve. “Have faith in the possible and pride in your organization. Help your organization to improve through meaningful and deliberate change.”

If it’s the fourth future that appeals, then there are four things Light suggests the board needs to do, today, tomorrow, and, in fact, whether times are tough or flush.

  • Scrub down the organization.Examine the organization’s services and activities through an orderly review that emphasized productivity — not, for heaven’s sake, efficiency. Make a resolution to be more nonprofit-like, to focus on commitment to serving people and the community, and to being sure to do it well. (Light wrote a whole article a few years ago on what it means to be “nonprofit-like.”)
  • Find evidence of success.Talk among yourselves about your “brand,” your “value proposition,” your “theory of change.” Then look at the reports you receive at your board meetings. Review your website and your publications. Do they deliver evidence of your success? Are there areas that may need attention?
  • Pay attention to the tools. Are you wasting your most valuable asset—the wisdom that people bring to work with them everyday—through “economizing” on furniture, staff development, computers and communications? “When I teach nonprofit management,” Light said, “I don’t want my best students to make site visits. If they see the abysmal working conditions too many nonprofits offer, they’ll never want to work with you!” Board members should take the lead in assuring volunteers and staff have what they need to be productive. The undertow from concern about “overhead” is strong. Staff need help to resist it.
  • Broadcast your pride.Nonprofits are making a positive impact every day in the daily lives of people in our communities, in our nation, around the world. It’s hard work done under great stress. Make sure to thank—personally when you can—the people who do it, and their counterparts in other agencies and organizations throughout the community.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: The Economic Downturn – Good for Volunteers, But is it Good for Job Seekers, Too?

By Steven Joiner, who loves numbers.

A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies found that increased volunteer support has made it possible for many nonprofits to maintain or increase the number of people they serve. My colleague Amy Potthast recently posted a great overview of this study as well as some other research on volunteer support during recent tough economic times. Check out her post on The New Service Blog for more.

The numbers that popped out to me when I read the Johns Hopkins report were: 80%-90% responding organizations reported maintaining or increasing their use of volunteers through increasing the number of volunteer hours (84%), maintaining or increasing the sheer number of volunteers (88%), maintaining or increasing the capacity to recruit volunteers (83%), or increases in volunteer contributions (83%).

These numbers got stuck together in my head with some recent data that I saw in the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey. The report shows that there is a 20% decrease in organizations that intend to create new full-time positions and an 18% increase in organizations that intend to downsize or layoff staff.

So, how does this all relate?

The work of nonprofits still needs to be done even if you don’t see an abundance of nonprofit job openings. The truly unique inroad to nonprofit work is this middle area highlighted by these reports: a reliance on volunteers to continue pieces of a nonprofit’s mission that would otherwise go neglected due to constrains on staff time, size, and resources. It isn’t that volunteers are replacing paid nonprofit staff, it is more that nonprofit staff see volunteers as a vital piece of the work they do, the projects they coordinate, and the outreach they aspire to. Sometimes an organization has no choice but to break up some of the responsibilities that would otherwise be covered by a position currently iced by a hiring freeze and find talented people to help move pieces of these projects forward.

A very common thread throughout our Career Corner series is getting out there and getting involved in intentional ways. We never say to volunteer in order to get a job; rather, volunteer to get out there and get involved. Do what you love and what you love will come back to you…sometimes through paid employment.

So, given that the employment trends show a tightening of paid positions and the volunteerism data shows a stronger reliance on donated time and talent, ask yourself this question:

When nonprofits start being able to hire again, would you rather be on the radar as a dedicated, reliable volunteer during tough, belt-tightening economic times or a cold resume arriving in a hiring manager’s inbox at the first hints of sunnier fiscal horizons?

Then ask yourself: If you were that hiring manager, whose resume would you spend more time with? (Here’s a hint for you: What Nonprofit HR Wants.)

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Creative Fundraising Campaigns in Tough Times

This recession has clearly had ravaging effects, but fortunately, it has also sparked a lot of creativity. As nonprofit organizations attempt to carry out their work despite considerably reduced budgets, some are coming up with innovative takes on traditional fundraising and advertising campaigns. Here are two recent examples that we heard about:

The Salvation Army of Northern New England slashed its advertising budget to zero and nonetheless succeeded in rolling out a large, attention-grabbing advertising campaign to raise funds in Portland, Maine. Springwise reports that a local ad agency donated its time to design the ads and coordinate the campaign, and more than 50 local businesses donated various forms of ad space to the nonprofit. As a result, Salvation Army advertisements appeared on everything from store windows to pizza boxes to bathroom mirrors to tennis courts, all around town. Some individuals even scribbled on the dusty back windshields of their cars in order to display the ad.

In New York City, the Queens Museum of Art decided to transform its annual fundraising gala into what they called a NON-GALA in June. Rather than waste any precious donations on a fancy event, the QMA skipped the drinks and dancing in order to put more towards its actual exhibits and programs. The NON-GALA took place online, and it still managed to have most of the other highlights of an annual fundraiser: a welcome from the director, speeches by honorees, a chance to chat, and, of course, an opportunity to donate. There was even an auction conducted via a live streaming video, where participants could obtain the auctioned items for free by making creative, non-monetary bids via phone, email, and Twitter.

If you know of any other recession-friendly fundraising campaigns that nonprofits have tried, please share them in the comments below.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: Where Have All the Nonprofit Jobs Gone?

Advice from Steven Joiner, who can’t say enough about getting offline to boost your job search (especially after you read this blog post!).

By John Haslam (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Yes, nonprofits are tightening their belts, implementing hiring freezes, and otherwise watching their pennies closely, but that doesn’t mean that opportunities don’t exist. A bit of understanding about how (U.S.-based) nonprofits recruit will go a long way to opening doors that you might otherwise think are closed. The nonprofit hiring process is different for three key reasons:

  • Nonprofits have decentralized job postings
  • They hire on unusual cycles
  • And they often hire from their own close-knit community

While it is harder to find a central nonprofit job posting location, it is not impossible to stay up-to-date. Many nonprofits (especially smaller ones) only post on their own websites, on local free job sites, and in local newspapers. Larger nonprofits utilize resources like, as well as their own organizations’ websites and local free job websites. A lack of centralized job posting locations makes it all the more important to know the local nonprofit community (organizations, networking contacts, and local resources). Additionally, you can set up alerts (both Yahoo! and Google, for example, offer alert systems) for keywords that pertain to your interests (grant writer, United Way; Program Director, America’s Second Harvest).

Though many nonprofits do not follow a hiring calendar per se, there are definitely busier hiring times to keep in mind. Some organizations assess their hiring needs at the end of their fiscal year and then do a wave of hiring for the start of the new fiscal year. If you are interested in a particular organization, learn when their fiscal year begins (look at Annual Reports or their IRS 990 forms on Guidestar) and keep close tabs on them during this period. Other organizations may not hire on a fiscal cycle but may be influenced by other factors. Organizations that attract young professionals sometimes have a high turnover during the summer as employees depart to pursue further schooling in the fall. If you have a target career area, think about the connection between current events and cyclical calendars that may influence an organization’s hiring practices. For example, jobs in education mostly hire in the spring and summer and jobs that involve a lot of work outside are typically most active in the spring, summer, and fall.

Finally, remember that the nonprofit sector is a close-knit community and that many positions go unadvertised because they are either filled internally or through a network connection with another organization. This makes getting out (see Chapter 4 of The Idealist Guide) and getting involved (see Chapter Five) a vital step toward gaining visibility and finding those unadvertised nonprofit employment opportunities.

The bottom line here: with limited budgets for job postings and recruitment, the lack of a hiring calendar, and the fact that nonprofits often look internally first and then to other nonprofits in the community next when hiring for new positions, many job openings are never publicized.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Asking One Another: What Can We Do Now?

By Flickr user woodley wonderworks (Creative Commons)

A little bit more.

No need to retell the tale of crisis and concern here. The challenges facing nations on every continent will take big responses, the kind of thing only governments, giant development NGOs, and international assistance organizations can do. But the present crisis is also made up of millions of small crises, happening to schools, community services, churches, theaters, families, museums, and libraries everywhere.

If you listen to the politicians and pundits, the problems are of such magnitude and complexity that they require solutions beyond the boundaries of everyday life.

I would argue that while you and I can’t do much about what’s needed in the big responses, but we can make a big difference down the block, across town, or (using our keyboards) anywhere in the world. This is the time for each of us to do a little bit more. Positive action in the face of our current challenges doesn’t require anything extraordinary.

In the coming weeks, we’ll write several posts about the “little somethings” that people and organizations in our networks are doing to respond to the needs around them — things that, if done by many people all around the world, add up to make a big impact. If you have an example to share, please comment on this posting, or write to us at to let us know.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas you might consider:

  • If you’re in a cold climate like I am, look in the back corners of your closet for serviceable winter gear that you aren’t likely to need. Donate anything you find to a homeless shelter.
  • Think about the organizations you’ve made a contribution to in the last few months. Pick out one or two and send a second small check (or make another donation online). If their contributions from others are down by a few percentage points, a small amount from you will be a welcome addition to the bank account, and a boost to morale.
  • Scan the organizations in your community with a listing on Idealist and look for volunteer requests that fit your interests and your available time. Many groups can use a hand for a short-term project while others will be looking for just an hour or so a week, at a time that suits your schedule.
  • Feel a little more flamboyant? Pick a cause or an organization that you know could use a bit of extra help right now and connect through FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn (or whatever networking site you use) to organize your friends to stretch a little and help out. (Be sure to check in with the organization first to be sure you’ve calibrated your idea in a way that will really help and not be too much of a distraction.)

And please do drop us a line to let us know how you’re helping to do just a little bit more.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: What the Economic Downturn Means for Nonprofits

From Flickr user SOCIALisBETTER (Creative Commons)

By Meg Busse.

These days, the economy is obviously a huge factor in any career search. How exactly it’s affecting the job search is the subject of a myriad articles on what job seekers should do to get a job in the for-profit sector, but there hasn’t been the same flood of information about nonprofit hiring. However, there are a multitude of factors that make this a more multifaceted topic, including the new administration’s agenda to expand Americans’ engagement in national service, individuals’ growing desire to have careers with a social impact, and the continuing innovation in the nonprofit sector.

So while there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the nonprofit job search, there are three articles that I’ve read lately that offer interesting insights into what’s to come in the sector, the growing interest in nonprofit careers, and what to consider if you are applying for nonprofit jobs.

  • The first, an interview called “Climate Change,” appears in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. It’s an interesting overview of how Paul Light, a governance and nonprofit effectiveness expert at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, sees the sector changing and adapting in the future in response to the current economic situation.
  • “Nonprofit Gigs Get Competitive” is from and provides interesting anecdotal information about the increase in interest in nonprofit sector careers, with a particular focus on MBA students and alums.
  • Finally, in the most recent issue of Fast Company, Nancy Lublin wrote a great article called “Nonprofits? Not a Recessionary Refuge for Job Seekers.” This is one of my new favorite articles because of the overall message, but also because it has some fantastic lines, including a description of the multitude of meetings she’s been having lately with friends and friends-of-friends who are interested in nonprofit careers:

I ask, “What kind of thing are you looking to do?” They reply, “Oh, anything in the not-for-profit sector. I just want to make the world a better place.” This is like me saying, “Oh, anything in the for-profit world would be fine. I just want to make money.”

Note: To avoid offering a similarly vague response about why you want to work in the nonprofit sector, check out past blog posts on crafting your personal mission statement, and the Four Lens and Career Tracks self-assessment exercises. Also, check out Chapter Three of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for more tips on figuring out specifically why you’re looking for this kind of work right now.

While these three articles won’t provide any easy answers, silver bullets, or job search panaceas, they’re worth reading because they’ll either confirm what you already know or provide some new insight into the nuances of nonprofit hiring. Or a little of both.

And understanding nonprofit hiring nuances like the necessity of networking, the value in ‘speaking the language,’ and the importance of demonstrating a commitment to the mission is what will differentiate you from all of the other applicants flooding the nonprofit job market.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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