I Wanna Get Paid for This! 7 Step Plan Toward a Nonprofit Career

This past weekend I presented at the Minnesota OUT! Campus Conference. I have close ties to the Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance, the group that hosts the conference and many of the organizers were asking me about how I got involved with nonprofits and if I’d be willing to present to college and high school students about how to get engaged in the sector.

I hesitated at first, but the more I reflected on my process I realized that there were seven distinct steps I used in my process in getting engaged in the nonprofit sector.

Here they are:

1) Knowing You

What issues or topics get you most excited? What social issues are you most passionate about? When you think about solving those social problems, what kind of solutions get you so excited the hair on the back of your neck stands on end?

2) Campus Matters

What activities do I participate in on campus? How do they link with what I want to do? How do I leverage campus activities to gain experience in the area I want to work in?

3) Know who? : Your existing network

Who do you know that is leading a career in the sector you most admire? Who in your network can offer stories about their success? Who can you get together to ask questions about the field?

4) Knowing who? : Building your network

Who do you want to be in relationship with? Are there people that are leading careers that you admire but don’t necessarily know? Are there presenters, speakers, bloggers you want to have conversations with?

5) Volunteer

Get off campus. Get engaged with a nonprofit that is related to the work that really gets you passionate. The folks in #3 can probably help you find places to plug in. Once you’ve volunteered there for a while, ask for more responsibility to gain the skills you’d like to develop. Volunteer gigs can also help you meet the folks you thought of in #4.

6) Do your homework

This can include reading blogs and books, attending events or research topics relevant to your areas of interest. Doing your homework can also help you build your network and find places to plug into volunteer opportunities and internships.

7) Know Your Hang-ups

What are some of the things that stand in your way? What about this process makes you nervous or holds you back? Make a list of things that you feel may be holding you back, then map out some strategies. Knowing what holds you back can build your confidence.

If this is something a group you work with wants to explore more, send me an email FromOurPerspectiveBlog@gmail.com to schedule a workshop presentation of “I Wanna Get Paid for This! Building your Nonprofit Career”.

In the meantime, here’s a list of places to start with for “Doing Your Homework”

Buy the book, “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 5o Ways to Accelerate Your career” by Trista Harris and Rosetta Thurman. Click the image to the right and buy the book right now!

Or do some poking around on any of these websites:

Blogs I love:





All things nonprofit in Minnesota:


Places to search for jobs and internships:



I don’t give to charity.

Well, I suppose I do in the technical sense. I give gifts to nonprofit organizations and receive a tax-deduction for it. But that’s not why I give. I give for really specific reasons, to really specific causes.

I like to think of my personal giving not so much as charity but as social change philanthropy. I think more young people; especially those of us that work in nonprofits should begin to frame our personal giving as social change philanthropy.

We all have causes we care about. We all have things we want to see changed in the world – so why aren’t we giving our money to those causes? There are a few specific social justice causes near and dear to my heart – LGBT justice, reproductive rights, racial justice and HIV/AIDS. It is important to me to give to social justice and social change efforts because these groups are often the most underfunded and under-resourced.

I am very careful about where I give my money though. I want to make gifts that are both significant to me as well as have an impact. However tempting it may be to throw $20 at every sob story I hear or every flashy brochure that comes to me in the mail, I don’t – I have a plan.

When I was serving on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Foundation, I prioritized my giving to them. I set aside a portion of my monthly income and had that deducted from my paycheck once a month. If you’re serving on a board, they should be your giving priority. I gave to them because they are organizing local communities every day to protect a woman’s right to choose, they are educating folks about reproductive justice issues and they are changing hearts and minds each and every day.

I give to the foundation I work for because I believe in their mission. I am fully invested in the work we do and I feel strongly that nonprofit staff should make gifts to the groups they work for as often as they can.

I am hesitant to give to national groups, but I do give to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, because they are working to build an LGBT movement that’s inclusive of racial and economic justice and they work in local communities to build our power to win.

And lastly, I ride in and give gifts to the Red Ribbon Ride because this ride supports both direct-service and education/advocacy organizations in the state of Minnesota that work to end social stigma around HIV and ultimately end HIV/AIDS in our state.

I have a giving plan. I know how much of my annual income I can give to nonprofits and I have a list of the nonprofits/causes I want to give to. I also have a “reserve” so I can attend events that friends are hosting for their favorite nonprofits as well as give to the occasional well-played pitch story that comes my way.

Do you have a giving plan? Do you have clear reasons why you give to the groups you give to? If not, why?

It only takes a few minutes to plan your giving. Think about your income for the year and how much of it you can donate. Make a list of causes dear to your heart or nonprofits whose work is making the changes you want to see in the world. Decide how you’ll split the amount you can afford among these groups and stick to it. Nonprofits will appreciate your consistent giving and at the end of each year you’ll have a better sense of what your gifts are accomplishing. Start your personal social change philanthropy plan today.

If you’re looking for more resources on making a giving plan, check out Tracy Gary, her work is terrific! www.inspiredphilanthropy.org

I was hired for my first nonprofit job when I was twenty years-old. Yes, HIRED. It was a paid gig. AND it was a job in philanthropy to boot – and I still work for the same organization.

To this day I am still entirely humbled and grateful to Greg, my first boss, for hiring me. He took a risk and saw potential. And also, to this day, people continue to do a double take when they hear that I am in my twenties and work for a foundation in a lead program role. I still find myself saying at events and happy hours, “Yes, I am on staff and have been for three years.” It gets old after a while. Now in most settings I would expect that folks might be surprised to hear that a 23 year-old is the director of programs for a regional LGBT foundation, but the last place I’d expect to get pushback is at an event for young professionals. This has been a huge challenge for me.

When I landed what I call “the first job of my dreams”, I immediately started attending networking events, professional development seminars and of course “YP” events. Working in philanthropy I felt a little over my head at first. Everyone was older. Most everyone was white. Many had been seasoned nonprofit professionals before they arrived as program officers at a foundation.

I thought my one safe haven would be attending “YP” events. Think again. I suppose you could call what I encountered at these events, acute ageism. Sharing my age seemed to leave a bad taste in the mouths of people I thought to be peers. I continually had to assure my colleagues at these events that “No, I in fact, am not an intern. I am on staff.” I was shocked. These were supposed to be my people. We were supposed to band together about being younger in field dominated by folks 20 and 30 years older than us. Instead what I found was a general mistrust and disbelief.

Sometimes when I was not “out” about my age, I found my other young colleagues cracking jokes about “those twenty something’s” or ridiculing the work of their newest intern.

I started to keep quiet about my age. Clearly I had missed the memo about YP events. In this town YP or emerging leader seemed to mean mid to upper thirties, married, wanting to climb the ladder in your organization and entirely uninterested in cultivating next gen leadership for the field. I was, to say the least, perplexed.

(Please keep in mind there were, however, exceptions. People like Trista Harris and Adam Robbins became great colleagues that shared my passion for increasing younger leadership in the field.)

After some time being “undeclared” with my age at YP events I had a change of heart. I decided that I was not going to let bitterness get the best of me. I started sharing my age whenever it came up. I wanted to show folks that as one of “those twenty something’s” I added value to the sector, I was a player just as much as they were and that I wanted to see more folks in their twenties taking leadership in the field.

Sure, my “outness” about my age hasn’t shifted the sector, but it may, if for only a few minutes, change the way my peers in their thirties think about new grads and those of us in our twenties. Maybe, just maybe, my love of my age will transform into a little more love for other twenty-something’s.

There is a ton out there about growing diversity and inclusion practices in nonprofits. There are endless articles about recruiting and retaining “talent of color”. Every other nonprofit you come across is engaging in some process about working with, or recruiting or increasing leadership of color. This post is NOT about that. Instead, it’s about what happens when those of us who are leaders of color end up receiving new or expanded community roles.

I was recently selected as one of four co-chairs for the 23rdannual National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Creating Change is, by my standards, one of the most important gatherings our LGBT movement has each year. February 2-6, 2011 more than 2,500 queer and allied activists, organizers and movement leaders will convene in Minneapolis to learn, share our skills, build community, party and undoubtedly fall in and out of love at least once in the course of our five days together (more on that later).

When the initial announcement was made regarding our appointment as co-chairs, I was thrilled! I found my calling at 20-years-old at Creating Change in 2008 in Detroit. It was a life changing experience that I now have the chance to provide for others, and right in my back yard!

E-mails, calls and texts began coming in to congratulate me. Folks were excited about the fabulous team we had, and the bonus for many folks, three of the four co-chairs are local leaders of color. I am humbled to work along side the other co-chairs as I reflect on all of their expertise, organizing skills, and relationships and respect in our local communities.

So, here was the tough part…Folks kept telling me how great it was that we had so many great leaders of color co-chairing the conference this year. Don’t get me wrong, the excitement over having three of four co-chairs of color is not excitement for naught, it’s pretty damn exciting actually. But, here’s the problem I had; that seemed to be the only thing folks were excited about. The sense I got was that my being a person of color was somehow the definitive reason I was selected (mind you this sentiment was not coming from my friends at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), it was coming from my local friends and colleagues. Certainly my resume, the work I’ve done in the community, the relationships I have and my track record were deciding factors in my selection and the selection of other co-chairs. So, why is it that folks seem to be most excited about the “leadership of color” and not the fact that we have a stellar team leading the host committee? Don’t get me wrong, our LGBT leadership is predominantly white and we rarely honor and elevate our leadership of color. But, at what point do we begin do over celebrate and tokenize? How as leaders of color can we re-center our leadership opportunities as outcomes of our skills and relationship building and not make our being of color the focus of why we are given opportunities?

It’s a delicate balance. We undoubtedly should be elevating leaders of color, but NOT just because we are of color, but because we bring necessary skills for a job or leadership position. We should recognize the historically white leadership of our movement and actively prioritize and elevate voices of color. While doing this we shouldn’t get swept up in the excitement of “diversity” and remember to honor and value what each leader brings to the table and not over-celebrate and subsequently tokenize leaders of color.