In June, I held a series of one-on-one conversations with nonprofit communications professionals about their careers.
I loved every moment of those chats and haven’t stopped thinking about them since.
Most of the people I spoke with want to move up into a director-level position.
“What tech skills should I learn, Yesenia?”
Truth is, tech skills alone won’t earn you a director-level promotion.
You need to be creative, you need to be a peacemaker, and you need to learn to manage people and money.
1. Technology skills will fade
As important as it is to keep learning as digital communications professionals, we also must embrace the fact that all our tech skills will eventually become obsolete.
2. Learn to manage people
Managing staff is a vital skill to add to your resumé. There are too many bad managers in the nonprofit world. (Have you ever worked for or with a bad manager? Then you know how toxic they are to an organization.)
If you don’t yet manage staff at your current job, look for opportunities, such as managing an all-volunteer board. Managing interns will do in a pinch, but I prefer long-term management relationships, such as with a group of board members.
3. Learn to manage a budget
Bosses know how to allocate their budget to get the most value.
If you don’t yet manage a budget as part of your current job, request the responsibility. It doesn’t matter how small your budget is. You’ll benefit from learning how to read financial statements, dealing with unexpected expenses, and determining how to allocate funds according to program priorities.
4. Be the peacemaker
As managers in digital communications, we are often balancing a desire for new ideas against a fear of new ideas!
The best nonprofit managers are peacemakers who can bring together people from different organizations, with a variety of concerns and aspirations, and emerge with a successful project.
5. The opportunity is always there – for the right person
Smart executive directors know how to retain talented staff as long as possible. They are willing to carve out a career path, even where one didn’t previously exist. Go ahead and ask.
Of course, your career path also depends on your executive director’s belief that you are the right person to help grow the organization.
Don’t be afraid to ask regardless. You want to work for a boss that believes in you as much as you believe in her and in the organization.
6. You can get creative with your salary
Remember what I said about learning how to read financial statements? This is why!
Bosses know how to be creative when asking for a raise.
For example, the first year that I served as an IT director, I saved my organization almost $20,000. They were happy to give me a small raise at the end of the year.
You can also negotiate for benefits like extra vacation time or a dedicated professional development budget.
7. “Asking for forgiveness” can be a missed opportunity
A lot of us (me included) prefer to “ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”
We miss an important opportunity to be recognized as leaders when we “ask for forgiveness.”
“Asking for forgiveness” implies that we work around our boss and colleagues rather than with them. When we work around others, they don’t have the opportunity to witness our hard work, our ability to problem solve, our creativity, or our decision-making skills.
Ready to be the leader we need in the nonprofit world?
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