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Create a Better Cover Letter and Resume for Your Nonprofit Job Search

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This article is the latest in our series of guest posts featuring career development and job hunting advice for nonprofit professionals. Job hunting? Join our Nonprofit and Philanthropy Jobs group for more advice, discussion, and networking opportunities. 

Are you wondering why you keep not getting that call for an interview?

First, let’s talk about your cover letter. I help people with their cover letters all of the time, and the mistake people usually make is not breaking out their experience in bullets, to convey how they would fulfill each job duty and requirement

This needs to be done for each job that you apply for.

Namely, you need to look at their requirements and duties, and adjust the middle sections of the cover letter to address EXACTLY what they are looking for.

You can bullet it, you can bold it, but the important thing is, you call out what they need to pass you on to your immediate supervisor. If you don’t know this person’s name, don’t worry about it.

What the hiring person is doing is looking for just how many boxes they can tick next to your name. They simply have to show the boss 3 good resumes to get on to the next position they’re looking to fill.

When you apply to these different jobs, they are going to be looking for different things.  I would create separate resumes for :

  • Fundraising work
  • Communications work
  • Anything else you want to do, general admin/clerical work?
  • General resume with all work experience from the last seven years.

Go straight to their requirements and qualifications and write your cover letter to speak to these.

Here is a sample of the requirements and qualifications for a nonprofit fundraising job.

REQUIREMENTS AND QUALIFICATIONS:

  • Any combination of experience and training that would likely meet the following requirements
  • Master’s degree in business or public administration or equivalent;
  • Extensive experience in successfully managing all aspects of development:  communications;  corporate, foundation and individual giving; legacy, capital and annual campaigns; events; development and implementation of well rounded, Board-led fundraising strategies over time.   
  • Minimum of ten years successful, progressive experience in resource development;
  • Minimum of five years supervising staff, including responsibility for personnel decisions and knowledge of law;
  • Experience with Raiser’s Edge donor tracking system (min. 3 years).
  • Demonstrable working knowledge of  public relations principles and practice;
  • Demonstrated ability to develop and implement strategies and programs for effectively raising funds to enhance, expand and continue agency efforts to accomplish mission related goals and objectives;
  • Possess excellent oral and written communication skills as represented in report writing, public speaking, interpretation of Executive Director directives, and effective team building;
  • Possess good organizational skills and ability to prioritize multiple and varied tasks;
  • Excellent project management skills;”

They don’t want much, do they?  Sheesh!

But you can relax. You don’t have to respond to all of these. Just some of them. They can’t find someone with every single one of these qualifications. They’re just hoping to get someone with most of them.Which ones would I choose, if I didn’t have a Master’s degree, knowledge of Raiser’s Edge or 15 years of experience? (I don’t have any of these.) I would choose to answer these bullets below in my cover letter.

  • Extensive experience in successfully managing all aspects of development:  communications;  corporate, foundation and individual giving; legacy, capital and annual campaigns; events;
  • Minimum of ten years successful, progressive experience in resource development;
  • Demonstrable working knowledge of  public relations principles and practice;
  • Demonstrated ability to develop and implement strategies and programs for effectively raising funds to enhance, expand and continue agency efforts to accomplish mission related goals and objectives;
  • Possess excellent oral and written communication skills as represented in report writing, public speaking, interpretation of Executive Director directives, and effective team building;

How do you get them to even consider you for an interview?

You have to pick the pieces that you will do well in, and bring those to your cover letter.

Remember, the HR person or more likely, the over-worked admin, is merely looking for which resumes to discard. Any resumes that do not clearly state how they exactly fit within the job description can be safely discarded. Why? Because if the applicant doesn’t answer this, then they probably don’t have the required amount of experience.

Notice how in the letter below, I answer many of the main requirements for this position.

Dear (Direct Supervisor, probably ED),

I am pleased to submit this letter of inquiry for the position of Development Director at XX nonprofit. Thanks to your job listing, I am familiar with the duties of the position and feel that I could execute them with excellence. If you’d like to know exactly how I fit within your major qualifications, I have outlined my skills and experiences below.

10+ Years Successful Fundraising Experience: I have the experience to make XX even more successful. I have a BA from X College, and over seven years of experience working in fundraising. My experience spans from Development Intern in 2001, Co-founder of a nonprofit in 2004, Development Assistant in 2005, Development Associate in 2006, Development Officer in 2009, to Development Director in 2012.  In the past ten years, I have learned much about fundraising through working with different nonprofits, including corporate, foundation and individual giving, annual campaigns, events, and communications.   

Working knowledge of public relations principles and practice: In 2008-2009, I raised attendance at a nonprofit job fair event from 500 to 1,500 thanks to successful marketing strategies via TV, radio, social media, newspaper, and more. I am able to write compelling copy for multiple audiences, from press releases to blog posts, from e-newsletters to street banners.  I taught PR strategy at a major city in 2011. I believe I can help XX nonprofit attain PR and marketing success.

Increasing Fundraising Revenue 55% in one year: During my career, I have raised progressively larger sums of money in short amounts of time. After just three months on the job at X, I helped the gala raise $30,000 more than the agency ever had before, $75,000. The following year, together with a stellar development committee, we exceeded that amount, and raised $130,000 with this event, over goal. At XY nonprofit, in just one year, I raised $280,000 in sponsorships, $150,000 more than the previous year.  

This example is meant to show you how you can answer a job requirements listing by letting the most pertinent requirements create the bullet points in your letter.

Once you’ve got these bullet points or bolded sections ready, go in and talk about how you fulfill their requirements, including money you’ve raised, people you’ve supervised, increased attendance at events, increased numbers of sponsors, increased numbers of people who you got the word out to. All of these are useful and valid for this letter.

Even if you didn’t stay at a job very long and don’t have a lot of numbers to show, talking about how you reached a lot of people and/or created fundraising systems will be relevant for most small nonprofit fundraising jobs.

Create a resume + cover letter that will get you that #nonprofit job—even if you're lacking experience. Click To Tweet

What about your resume? How can you make it better?

A lot of people do tons of work on their cover letter, and think they can just use the same resume for each job.

Au contraire my friend. If you’re applying for a nonprofit marketing job, you want to highlight different skills than if you’re applying for a nonprofit event fundraising job. If you’re applying for a nonprofit fundraising director job, you want a different resume than if you’re applying for a development officer job.  

And if you’re trying to break into, for example, fundraising, it’s going to look different than if you’ve got a few years experience under your belt.

What if you have NO nonprofit experience at all?  How can your resume help you break in?

There are 3 categories of skills:

  1. General skills
  2. Job specific skills
  3. Personal traits and characteristics

What are some general skills that are useful to have in fundraising?

  • Problem solving
  • Research
  • Marketing/Communications
  • Relationship building

What are some job specific skills related to fundraising?

  • Event coordination
  • Grant research
  • E-newsletter writing
  • Appeal letter logistics

Have you done event coordination? Have you volunteered at a nonprofit somewhere? Have you done research? Have you ever written a newsletter or sent out event postcards?  All of these experiences can relate to what you want to do now.

 

What are some personal traits that are good for fundraising?

  • Persistence
  • Outgoing personality
  • Problem solving
  • Attention to detail

Here’s a sample resume for someone breaking into fundraising.

Jana Esterhazy

(901) 482-1092

Email: jesterz@yahoo.com

Objective: Event coordinator

Highlights

  • Experience in planning events for nonprofit
  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • Highly skilled in publicity

Relevant skills

Event planning

  • Coordinated event for 400 attendees
  • Logistics of event included liquor license, street closing, food vendor
  • Volunteer coordination including scheduling,

Problem Solving

  • Working with a limited budget
  • Coordinating potential vendors
  • Recruiting and supervising volunteers to set up the stage, sound equipment, decor, and games.

Publicity

  • Supervised design and creation of street banner
  • Creation and distribution of 1000 flyers
  • Online outreach including Facebook, Twitter and Eventful.com
  • Succeeded in getting 5 new sponsors for event.

Do you see how this person broke up their skills into categories?

Why would you do this?

Because the hiring manager, or your direct supervisor, will be looking for skills more than jobs. They want to know that you can do the job. They don’t particularly care about every single detail of every single job you’ve had.

Are you an event coordinator? ImpactFlow can help you get more sponsorships, plan better events, and raise more money for your nonprofit. Click here to see how it works!


About the author:

Mazarine Treyz is the author of the 5 star rated book, Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide (2013). She has helped lots of people find nonprofit, for-profit, and government jobs. In Austin, Texas, she directed a nonprofit job club from 2010-2011 with speakers such as nonprofit consultants, executive directors, chief development officers, and others. If you’re looking for a nonprofit job, check out http://wildwomanfundraising.com and get advice on good interview questions, strategies to rise in the field, and more.

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