It's National Volunteer Week 2011, so I today I thought it would be appropriate to talk about just how important volunteering is to getting a non profit job. Yes, it is true that you might be able to break into the nonprofit sector with no volunteer experience, but there is no doubt that it will greatly improve your chances.
It might be hard to consider doing volunteer work when what you really want is to get started on full time employment at a non profit organization. But what you have to realize is that the things you will be doing while volunteering will be a huge boon to your efforts. Nonprofit managers will scan every resume they receive for certain keywords, and volunteering is one that will really stand out for them, especially if it's for a highly thought of volunteer organization. Any volunteering you have done in the past is relevant, so even if you haven't worked at this place in a few years, you should include it in your resume.
So where do you start? First of all, you will want to have an idea of what kind of nonprofit organization you want to work for. If you want to, say, work at Save the Children, you are going to want to do volunteer work that will involve helping children; as a matter of fact, you might be able to do volunteer work with the organization itself. What you might not realize is that most non profits have ample opportunities for volunteering, so you should inquire with the organization you want to work for. If they don't, then you are going to want to search for volunteer organizations that do work similar to the nonprofit you want to work at.
As I said before, it is certainly possible to get a non profit job without volunteer experience. This is especially true if you worked in the for-profit sector before. Kerry Hannon, a financial expert who writes for Forbes, says you should seek out nonprofits that are looking for help on the business end. But if you have little work experience (i.e. you are just out college), then you really need to consider doing volunteer work to get a leg up on the competition.