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Constituent Today, Staff Tomorrow

Some of the most valuable staff roles are filled by a nonprofit’s constituents, such as former volunteers, corps members, fellows, alumni and clients.  Constituents are often viewed as desirable hires as they demonstrate a commitment to an organization’s mission, as well as fit with the organization’s culture. 

Making the Transition

Nonprofit hiring managers recommend two pieces of advice to constituents who are seeking to transition into a staff role: connect the dots and communicate your value.

Connect the dots:  First, determine your overall value to the organization, and then map your value to the organization’s goals and mission.  To do so, consider the answers to the following questions:

  • What skills and knowledge have you gained from your direct contact with the organization?
  • What core competencies do you possess that fit with the organziation’s goals, mission, and culture?
  • Where do you see yourself fitting within the organization?

The answers to these questions will help you connect the dots, and position yourself to make a strong case for your employment to a hiring manager.

If the organization has hired other former constituents, reach out to these hires for advice and guidance. These staff can also offer a perspective about what challenges they faced during the hiring and on-boarding processes, as they transitioned from being a constituent to a staff role.

An organization’s human resources staff can be another great resource. HR staff should be able to share insights about the organizational culture, as well as core competencies that are required for a given role.

For example, Elaine Mak, Director of Talent Management at City Year, stresses the importance for former Corps members’ ability to highlight their leadership experience when applying for staff roles. According to Elaine, program alumni must be able to demonstrate, “strong performance in key leadership competencies, and the ability to seek out opportunities to help build the [City Year] leadership brand.”

Communicate your value: Once you have connected your personal value to the organization, it is important to let your interest be heard!

For example, Jessica Land, Volunteer Coordinator at Bottomless Closet NYC, recommends that, “... if you are interested in pursuing a position at the organization where you volunteer, make your intentions known. Don’t be afraid to discuss this with your program contact or a human resources representative.” 

To prepare for these conversations, leverage your first-hand experience with the organization, as well as the information you gained from researching the organization. Become fluent in examples of how you’ve demonstrated the core competencies sought for a particular role (or the organization in general), particularly examples from your personal interactions with the organization. In your conversations, take these opportunities to listen as well as share, so that you can continue to evaluate your fit and reflect what the organization is seeking.

Where to Look
Bottomless Closet NYC, Breakthrough Collaborative, and City Year are a few organizations that look at their pool of current and former constituents to fill internal roles.  However, Ben Martinez, the National Program Director of Breakthrough Collaborative, notes, “Persistence is the key. We don’t always have open positions. Interested alumni should keep updated through regular communication with staff members on openings.” 

Remember that keeping in touch takes work on your part, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve been involved with an organization. Set up a monthly or quarterly reminder on your Outlook calendar, BlackBerry or iPhone to both check the organization’s online job postings or check in with your organizational contact about any new positions, and then follow-up accordingly.

A Checklist for Success

Whether you are a program alum, volunteer, or client of a nonprofit, it is possible to leverage your personal connection into a staff role. To best position yourself for success, remember to:

  • Learn as much as you can about the organization, including its culture and values, as well as sought-after core competencies for particular roles.
  • Build relationships with – and make your intentions known to—key organizational staff, including other former constituents who have made the leap, and human resources staff.
  • Identify and be able to articulate your personal value to the organization and/or a specific role.
  • Continually demonstrate your passion and commitment to the organization.
  • Give your “all” in your current constituent role. If you are a superstar volunteer, you are more likely to be able to demonstrate your value to the organization, as well as build strong relationships with key staff along the way.