You’ve Got Advice!

Yesterday, I asked YOU some questions about your career. Today, I’m answering reader questions. This question struck me as pretty common with the people I’ve met through running the job club. How do I get experience in doing a job, so that I can get hired for the job?

If you want to break into the nonprofit field, I coach people on many aspects of finding a job, gaining experience, interviewing well, tailoring their resumes and cover letters, and navigating conflict in their workplaces. People who have worked with me have gone on to get jobs in school districts, government jobs, and nonprofit jobs.


Dear Mazarine,

I was laid off last year from my job as a writer at a nonprofit. In December, a friend asked me to step in a keep her organization’s grant program going while she reorganized. I had never written a grant before but found I really liked it. However, the job was for 6 months and she couldn’t afford to hire me. Now I feel like I’m in a catch-22: I’d like to work as a grant writer but with only 6 months of experience I can’t get an interview, much less a job, even when I have an introduction from my friend. Tomorrow I’m attending a volunteer orientation for a nonprofit and may help write grants for them. But I’d rather get paid. How else can I break in?




Hi Connie!

I started my career doing grants, partly because writing was what I was comfortable with. Of course, there’s so much more to fundraising than that, read my book for a primer on all aspects of fundraising, including grantwriting and finding a nonprofit job.

Training. First, I would find a foundation center cooperating collection to start getting trained to research and write grants. This is what I did and it gave me a solid base on which to build my business. I took classes in NYC, but I’m positive that they’ll have some near you.

Once you’ve got a training or two under your belt, and talked with some people who work there about ways to find grantwriting jobs, you’ll have more legitimacy as a grantwriter, and better ideas on who needs help in your area.

Identify your transferable skills. You wrote for nonprofits before, so you probably have a good idea of what makes persuasive writing. Look back through your CV. Have you used your writing skills before? Emphasize that. Did you help nonprofits get money with your marketing writing skills, social media skills? That’s important to factor into your experience too. You might have more “experience” than you realize.

Research. Go to Idealist.org, and look at the small to mid-size nonprofits in their listing. From there, you can research them online (looking at their 990s on Guidestar.org is really useful) and see if they need grantwriting help. Often, smaller organizations won’t care that you don’t have a lot of experience, as long as your rates are reasonable. So you can start with grantwriting for a certain hourly rate, and then move up from there.

Find Your Bottom Line. One thing you want to watch out for: People asking you to work for free, try before you buy, etc. You should do your proposal for free, but I wouldn’t write grants for free. Your work will potentially get them thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. You are worth it. So you need to charge them. You have to have a bottom line, because people will push you.

You might also want to see if you can narrow your focus from ALL nonprofits to certain ones whose cause you care about, or certain sizes of nonprofits, or certain locations.

Finding that next client. Another thing you can do is set up RSS feeds for nonprofit grantwriting jobs. Use indeed.com, simplyhired.com, Craigslist, and All of Craigs. Allofcraigs.com is fun because it lets you see jobs where remote work is fine with them. You can search for grantwriting jobs in any place where craigslist is.

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