My very first experience working in the nonprofit sector was gained through volunteering in a hospital’s office of development and community relations. By volunteering (aka working for free), I was able to gain practical experiences such as editing press releases, compiling resource manuals, and coordinating mass mailings. And beyond the skills I gained, I was able to build relationships that led to future letters of recommendations. And yes, with the realities of life… in addition to working 20 hours a week for free, I also worked two other jobs to bring home the bacon. The paying jobs covered my living expenses, but it was the 20 hours a week I worked for free that laid the groundwork for my future in the nonprofit sector and helped me secure future (paying) nonprofit jobs.
After I was more established in the nonprofit sector, I was interested in providing trainings and workshops for nonprofits. Again, I saw it necessary to gain some experience and network with others in order to expand my future opportunities. So, I worked for free. I saw in a local newspaper that a nonprofit was looking for a volunteer to provide a series of fundraising workshops for local arts organizations. Through working for free to provide the workshops, I was able to hone my training skills and also connect with others interested in hosting future workshops. Now a few years later, I have the privilege to travel the country providing trainings and workshops for nonprofit organizations.
Everyone starts somewhere, and working for free is a great strategy to jumpstart your nonprofit career. Yes, working for free requires effort and dedication with no immediate financial reward, but in the long run, the experiences and networking will pay off.
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