Nonprofit Job Hunting as a Person of Color

Written by Melissa Madzel


As a person of color in the executive search field, I’m asked time and again about how to navigate a nonprofit job hunt for people of color. In my own career journey and in my work, I have seen how Black folks and people of color experience the job-search process differently and may have different outcomes. Below are some tips that I’ve seen work.

1. Invest in yourself

Put time and effort into updating your LinkedIn profile, your resume, and letters of interest for the roles you’re seeking. If your budget allows, work with a professional career coach to have someone craft your resume and LinkedIn profile with you. Dedicate quiet time to the work – lock yourself away from your kids and turn off your social media updates for a few hours. Push yourself to look critically at your materials and ask for help from a knowledgeable friend or a professional.

2. Understand the search firm game

As you see compelling nonprofit postings, take note if those searches are being led by a search firm. If so, apply using the application instructions, but also follow that firm in social media, sign up for their newsletter, and check their website regularly to keep an eye on other searches that they are leading. Look for additional search firms doing work in your area. Many firms have a process for potential candidates to submit their information and become part of the firm’s database and network. Take advantage of these opportunities to get plugged in.

If a recruiter reaches out to you, consider the role that they are promoting. If it’s not for you, respond and let them know what types of positions you are seeking. Start building relationships with recruiters by giving thoughtful recommendations of other people they should consider and sending your resume for them to have on-file.

If you apply for a role through a search firm, think of the recruiter as your partner. It is perfectly acceptable to let the recruiter know if this is your first experience working with a search firm and to ask for help or feedback. We routinely work with candidates to prepare for interviews, give advice on resumes and cover letters, and talk about compensation.

3. Name your identity/ies

For years, we’ve seen that discrimination and bias in hiring works against people of color. Today’s nonprofit space is different. Many organizations are specifically interested in hiring people of color, especially into leadership. Highlight your identity in your application materials so that no one has to guess. A letter of interest can include the phrase, “As a Black woman…” or your LinkedIn profile and resume can include your participation in the Latinx employee group or other similar examples from previous jobs, education, or volunteer work.

4. Know your tolerance level

Organizations can be at any point along a journey of understanding diversity, equity, and inclusion and you should consider what you need to be effective and successful. Look for signs to understand where organizations are. Explicit language about race/gender/sexual orientation/physical difference/citizenship/incarceration history in job descriptions or other places on the website is a good sign. Other indicators of work in inclusion and belonging are diversity in the senior leadership and/or board of directors and diverse representation in images in the materials and on the website.

If you have the opportunity, consider asking a question like, “What is your organization’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion?” If they stumble in the answer, it doesn’t mean to run for the hills, but just to know that the organization or that individual may be early in their journey.

5. Be realistic about your needs

Consider the things that you need to be successful in a role. What are the salary range and benefits that you and your family need? What would working remotely look like for you? Do you have childcare or care for other dependents set-up? Know these things before your interview, so that you can assess whether or not you are ready for the role and if the organization is ready for you. If you are working with a recruiter, share all of these specifics with them and get feedback on what may or may not be feasible.

6. Be ready to negotiate for yourself

Once you know your own needs, do research to understand what a reasonable compensation package is for a role, including salary and benefits. This information can come from 990s (the public tax documents filed by nonprofits) that usually show the salaries of senior leaders. You can also ask friends in comparable roles to share their advice.

With recruiters, talk early and honestly about your compensation needs. It is perfectly acceptable to ask about the salary range in the first conversation with a recruiter, to avoid wasting anyone’s time. If recruiters aren’t involved in the search, ask about salary and benefits around the second set of interviews.

Note that your salary should not be based on what you are currently making, but on what is fair and competitive for the role. If you’re asked about your current salary or salary history, it might not be a legal question, so know the rules for your jurisdiction.

Learn more about negotiating tactics from the Koya team.

7. Don’t skip the small stuff

Every interaction is a piece of data for a recruiter, hiring manager, or search committee. Remember to check for typos, to respond to emails in a timely way, and to send thank you notes. These small details can make or break someone’s candidacy.

If interviews take place remotely, dress professionally, and set-up your camera with a good angle and minimal distractions.

Remember to say that you want the job and why. What will you bring to this role that no one else can?

Get more job search insights on the Koya Leadership Partners website and good luck on your job search!