How to Research a Nonprofit During Your Job Search


Research: the job seeker’s best friend!

For several years, I led the nonprofit ethics program of the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau, where my job involved close examinations of nonprofit financial statements, annual reports, and fundraising materials, to evaluate whether local charities met national standards of accountability. If you’re considering a position at a nonprofit, here are some key documents and resources to include in your research, especially if you’re applying for a leadership role.

Note: These are primarily resources for researching 501(c)(3) organizations, which are the most common and most widely recognized type of nonprofit. Other groups, such as political, labor, or trade associations, will have some of these documents available. For churches, synagogues, mosques, and some religiously affiliated organizations, you’ll need to rely on their internal documents if you want to do this kind of research.

Annual Reports

Most established nonprofits put together an annual report of some kind. It might be nothing more than a special issue of their donor newsletter, or it could be 64-page glossy magazine expensively designed and produced. The annual report is often available on the organization’s website or by asking for a copy.[1] The annual report, if it’s done well, will contain several key pieces of information that will greatly help you in your research: Continue reading

Job Farming

The usual metaphor is job hunting, but I have been thinking lately how much finding a new job is like that other basic human work: farming.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed.

Planting: You have to till the soil and sow your seeds.


Should we use the term job “farming” instead of job hunting? (Photo credit: thegreenpages)

If we wanted to extend the metaphor into a full analogy, the “soil” would be your network of contacts and resources, while your “seeds” would be the applications, resumes, proposals, etc., that (you hope) will eventually grow into work. You have to sow these widely, but you also have to sow in the right places and prepare the soil ahead of time.

Unlike farming, of course, you never quite know what you’ll reap from your efforts. Missionaries often talk about “sowing the seed widely,” which means sharing the Gospel with as many people as you can, without predetermining who you think will respond and who won’t. There’s an element to this in the job search, though it’s also important to make sure you’re planting the right seeds in the right soil.

Preparing: You have to keep your tools sharp.

While farming has seasons, it doesn’t really have an “off” season. The same is true with the job search. Just because you’re still searching for the perfect job doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels (or lack thereof). You have to keep your job skills sharp so that you’ll be ready when the opportunity comes.

For example, here are a few things I’m doing to keep my tools sharp:

  • Writing for the Emerging Scholars Blog
  • Taking web development and design courses from Treehouse.
  • Working on some freelance and personal writing projects.

These aren’t just exercises, either. Last month, I spoke at Urbana 12, InterVarsity’s triennial student conference. This reminding me how much I enjoy speaking — and that I’m pretty good at it. This, in turn, has shaped the direction of job search in the new year.

Persevering: You need to learn how to wait well — and hope for favorable conditions.

As with actual farming, the eventual harvest is only partly under your control. Drought, flood, locusts, and such can destroy your hard work, but (more optimistically) good weather and the right conditions can make your effort far more productive than you ever expected. Unlike actual farming, however, you don’t know how long your season of waiting will be, which means that guarding against discouragement and complacency are crucial. All of this makes your planting and preparing even more important.

What do you think of this comparison? Do you have a better metaphor that you prefer?

Dealing with Discouragement During the Job Search

Searching for a new job can be an emotional roller coaster. Regardless of why you’re looking for a new job, you’ll likely encounter discouragement, frustration, anger, hope, elation…sometimes all in the same day!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I think this is a great list of things to do when you lose your job. Here are a few other ideas I’ve found helpful.

Remember That You Are Not Your Job

My wife and I have been watching Downton Abbey on PBS, and I’m extremely grateful that I wasn’t born in a time or place that judged a person’s worth on his heredity. In the US, though, a person’s worth is often judged by his salary, bank account, or material possessions. (Interestingly, among the aristocracy portrayed in Downton Abbey, working for money was considered shameful, as something beneath the dignity of the nobility.)

In reality, your value as a person has nothing to do what job you do, how much money you make, or how nice a car you drive. When I’m tempted to judge myself according to a false standard, I take some time to remind myself of God’s love for me and the love of my family and friends. I’ve also found some techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy to be helpful, such as keeping a journal of honest and encouraging thoughts. When you find your head full of discouraging voices, listen to encouraging voices instead.

Find Encouraging Voices

These encouraging voices are going to be different for everyone. Perhaps you have a close friend or two, and getting coffee with them or talking with them on the phone lifts your spirits. It could be your favorite author or musician. Some people are recharged by being outside, letting the “voice” of nature wash over them as they walk, run, or hike.

For me, there are a couple of podcasts I listen to when I need some encouragement. One has been Dan Benjamin’s new podcast QUIT!. I’ve found it very helpful to hear stories from people who’ve gone through difficult work experiences and made something new out of their lives. I also listen to the sermons podcast by my friend Kenny Benge of St. John’s Anglican Church when I need some perspective on life. I usually listen to these podcasts when I’m exercising, which brings me to my final suggestion.

Stay Active and Productive

When we’re fully employed, the needs of our supervisors and the company generally define the work we do. (That can actually be a trap, but that’s a topic for another day.) Human beings, though, were designed to work, and we can become discouraged and unmotivated when we don’t have clearly defined work to do. Also, if you were used to heading into an office or other workplace, your physical activity may decrease significantly when you’re unemployed. This also can have a negative effect on your emotions.

Find ways to stay physically and mentally active during your job search. Look for goals that you can set or small achievements that reward you for your efforts. For example, earlier this month, I began taking web development and design courses through Treehouse. I’m learning some new skills that could help me in a future job, but I also enjoy learning for the sake of learning. Something I like about Treehouse is that you earn badges for each online course you complete. Sure, that’s kind of silly, but it’s an easy and fun way for me to track my progress. I’ve also started a new exercise plan that has milestones connected to each workout, so I can clearly see the progress I’m making.

How do you deal with discouragement? What are some things that have worked for you

Tracking Your Job Search with Google Docs

Google Logo

Google. You may have heard of them.

Last week, I shared how I use Pinboard to organize my job search. Another tool I use is Google Docs.

I’ve been approaching my job search like a project, which means I need to track progress toward my goals. Additionally, I have a short memory for what I’ve accomplished, and recording my daily and weekly activities helps me remember my work and feel better about my efforts.

Why Google Docs?

Any spreadsheet program could be used for the system below, but I prefer Google Docs for a number of reasons:

  • It’s free. Depending on your situation, you may not want to spend money on Excel or another spreadsheet program.
  • It’s fast. Most job applications and postings are online now. If you already have your browser open, you can easily keep Google Docs open in another tab and record your activity as soon as it’s completed.
  • It’s shareable. I share my Job Search spreadsheet with my wife so that she can see my progress. She knows I’m working hard on the search, but if she can see the work I’m doing, it helps her peace of mind.

If you have philosophical objections to Google, you could use Zoho Docs instead. It’s been several years since I used Zoho, but it was a very nice product back then.

How I Use Google Docs

I track three things in Google Docs, each on its own tab:

  • Job applications.
  • Networking and informational meetings.
  • Progress toward weekly goals.

Taking the first one last, I have weekly goals for the number of applications I want to submit and the number of meetings I want to have. I’ve added conditional formatting that colors my weekly activities green if I’ve met my goals.

With a job search, progress can be difficult to measure. There’s one big goal: get a job. You might have lots of interviews or very few (I’ve been in both situations), yet have no idea how close you really are to landing the job. For me, this is a very frustrating situation, so tracking small wins keeps my motivation up.

For job applications, I keep track of the following:

  • Date applied
  • Company
  • Position
  • Address
  • Contact person (if I know their name – it’s sad how rare that is)
  • Method of application (online, email, in-person)
  • Date of last contact (which allows me to see which applications need follow-up)
  • Notes
  • Status of my application (open/closed)

For meetings, the information is much simpler:

  • Date
  • Person
  • Notes
  • Next steps

Recording Next Steps is crucial. Did they suggest someone for me to contact? Are they looking up some information for me? I also record any next steps in Things (more about that in a future post).

How do you keep track of the progress of your job search?

Organizing My Job Search with Pinboard

Pinboard Logo

Pinboard, my favorite bookmarking service.

For the past month, I’ve been searching for a new full time job. As anyone can tell you, there are jobs out there — it’s just a matter of finding the right one for you. (Sounds easy, right?)

I’m looking for a position in communications, writing, editing, or web production. That covers a huge variety of positions and industries, and all sorts of jobs come up on, say, Indeed if you search for those keywords. Further, friends and family regularly email me about positions they’ve seen posted. Some of these look like they would be a perfect position for me. Others — not so much.

This leaves me with an information filter problem: how do I sort through and organize these jobs to find the ones that I’m both qualified for and interested in?

The Beauty of Pinboard

This is where Pinboard comes in. Pinboard is an online bookmarking tool that allows you to save and organize web pages for future reference. You might be asking, “Why would I want that? My web browser can store bookmarks for me.” True, but here are a few reasons why Pinboard is better:

  • Depth. I currently have over 5,000 bookmarks stored in Pinboard. Good luck keeping those organized in a web browser bookmarks folder.
  • Ease of use. Pinboard integrates with many other apps I use every day, including Tweetbot, Reeder, and Instapaper. If I read an interesting article in one of those apps, I can save it directly to Pinboard. With the “Save to Pinboard” shortcut, I can save webpages directly from Safari. With IFTTT, I can also automatically archive links from Facebook pages, RSS feeds, or other sources.
  • Tagging. Instead of folders, Pinboard using tags to organize bookmarks. This becomes important in a second.

Pinboard isn’t free — it costs about ten dollars to create an account — but that’s actually something I like about the service. As Pinboard’s owner explained on the site’s blog, charging a fee provides stability and allows him to focus on the service full time. I don’t have to worry about the site’s parent company shutting it down because it’s not profitable or the site selling ads (or my personal information) to make ends meet. There’s also an optional archiving service that, for $25/year, guarantees that articles you bookmark will still work even if the original link changes or gets deleted. If I were a student or working on a long-term research, I would sign up for archiving in a second.

My Job Review Workflow

  1. When I find a job posting, I review it quickly to see if it would be a good fit. If I don’t think it would be, I close the window and forget about it. If I think it might be a good fit for me, then I bookmark it with Pinboard.
  2. Collection: I usually use the Safari “Save with Pinboard” shortcut, which I have set to Cmd–5 on my Macbook. I tag the posting with jobs and set the bookmark to private. (By default, bookmarks in Pinboard are public, so you could share a collection of bookmarks with others.) If the job looks like an especially great fit, I tag it Ajobs.
  3. Review: Every couple of days, I review my bookmarks tagged jobs or Ajobs. Pinboard has a great feature called “Organize” that displays the original URL and your bookmark side-by-side. I check for a few things: Is the job still available? Do I still think it would be a good fit? Do I want to promote the job to Ajobs, demote it to jobs, or delete it entirely?
  4. Action: At any given time, I try to keep 5 to 10 postings tagged with Ajobs. So, whenever I’m ready to apply for some jobs, I simply open by Ajobs tag in Pinboard and start applying.
  5. Archive: After I’ve applied for the job, I change the tag from Ajobs to Ajobsapplied (or jobsapplied if I’ve applied to a lower priority position). This allows me to keep a record of the jobs I’ve applied for. I also add the job application to my Job Search Google Doc, which I’ll write about another day. Keeping track of applications is a requirement for unemployment benefits, but it also helps me follow up more effectively. For example, I can review my LinkedIn network for people who might be able to connect me with the company.

If you don’t want to use Pinboard, you could set up a similar workflow with Evernote, your browser’s bookmarks folder, or any program that lets you save and organize bookmarks.

That’s my workflow. I’d love to hear how others review and organize job listings. What are your tips?