Lately I’ve had lots of questions about how to deal with ageism in your nonprofit job search.

It’s depressing as hell to be old and know that you’re just going to get older and that people are less and less likely to hire you.

So what can you do if you’re in the ageism boat?

Since, if we’re lucky, we’re all going to get there eventually, this should concern you.

As Todd Nelson of California State University says, Ageism is basically discrimination against a future feared version of yourself.

Older people have so much to offer! Experience! Skills! They are people who can hit the ground running!
So why are nonprofits not jumping to hire older people?

One reason is that you can pay younger people less.

They will let you get away with it, possibly because they are not aware of their own value, don’t have the years of experience that would require nonprofits to pay them more, or don’t know how to negotiate.

Another reason may be that a younger person might just seem “trainable” and “quick” whereas an older employee does not seem as “trainable.”

So what to do about ageism?

Let’s face it. Most of the time, you can’t prove it. And if you could, hooray, you’ve got an employment lawsuit that can get you some money!

But can you fight ageism?

If so, how?


1. Look younger on paper

Penelope Trunk wrote an article that talks about “How To Look Younger for Your Career”.

In it, she goes into how to take pictures so you look younger in them (crop off your forehead, soft filter), how to make your email address make you look younger (have a gmail address), use dots.in.your.phone.number and a few other tips.

She says, “Age 40-50. If you can fake being 10% younger, you will face 50% less discrimination. This is not based on anything but my own experience. But the numbers are pretty much right.”


2. Get another degree

Another thing a person recommended to me recently was to go back to school, get that MBA or another degree, and then look like a recent graduate with that. That seems a pretty high cost just to “look younger” on paper but if you were planning on doing it anyway, maybe that would work for you.

The thing is, no matter how many good tips there are to look younger on paper or online, EVENTUALLY there will be an interview and they are going to see how old you really are.


3. Specialize

How can you get around the trap of ageism? Specialize, according to Penelope Trunk.

If you specialize, it doesn’t matter how old you are, because no young person can compete with someone who has been specializing for 20 years, in, say, Effective donor communications for land trusts. You see, HYPER-Specific!

In small nonprofits we almost never get the chance to specialize, because there is so much to be done. But if you can find a piece of fundraising that you really enjoy doing, and a cause that you really are passionate about, I would recommend that you specialize in that specific thing for that specific cause, and you can watch your competition drop away for jobs that you want.


4. Step up your appearance

Another thing you can do: Penelope Trunk wrote about a book called “Looks: Why they matter more than you ever imagined” by Gordon Patzer and I read it. It’s all about how we judge people for how they look all the time. We can’t escape it, and even Botox does not help.

So if Botox or plastic surgery does not help, how CAN you get ahead with your looks?


One of the things I did to help myself look better and get ahead was to go to an image consultant. I went to Barb Wilson last year. Oh wow. I wish I had gone to her 10 years ago. I imagine I would have gotten a lot higher in my employed life if I had taken more care with my appearance.

She taught me what colors look good on me, and which ones don’t. She taught me what makeup looks good on me, what jewelry works with my skin tone, how to shape my brows, what size my bag should be, and even went shopping with me and helped me see what styles looked good on me too. I had to donate my entire wardrobe to Goodwill after working with her. Now I have a closet full of things I love to wear, makeup that doesn’t overpower my face, and, incidentally, more speaking engagements and consulting clients. No accident.

mazarine treyz


I didn’t know that not all greys look good on me. I didn’t know that olive green looks bad on me. I didn’t know that the vast majority of greens don’t look good on me. That I can only wear CERTAIN yellows. I didn’t know that really bright colors look bad on me, and distract people from paying attention to what I’m saying. No matter who you are, I’d highly recommend a Color1 consultant in your area if you want to look better in your job search or in your career in general.

So, while all of these things may not stop age discrimination, they certainly can help you combat it.

What do you think? What are some good ways you’ve heard to combat age discrimination?

Stay tuned for tomorrow where we’ll talk about millennial age discrimination!