Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting Nonprofit Job Classifications Right

I've spent some time this morning and earlier this week in phone consultation with a for-profit company, and it's been great. No, I haven't turned away from the nonprofit sector. I'm still fully busy serving as an Interim Executive Director for one agency, and squeezing in some retreat facilitation and training when I can.

But this for-profit came to me with a problem that has bugged me for many years, and I'll bet you've had the same frustration. When you've gone to the major, general interest job sites (Monster, Career Builder, etc.) have you ever looked at the classifications for nonprofit jobs and said to yourself, "They just don't get it."?

Well, this company is putting together a new, better job search engine, and is really trying to get the nonprofit jobs right. It gave me a chance to think about how we describe ourselves and our positions in the nonprofit world.

Do you consider yourself an advocate first, and the area of your advocacy second? Or do you consider yourself an environmentalist, or a human services person first, and advocacy second? What about for fundraisers? Are you a committed to your issue are first, or could you raise money for any cause? Is the answer different based on your job function? I'd be interested in reading your comments on this.

Hopefully, soon, they will complete their project and launch the site, and I'll be able to give them a plug here. I know I'm looking forward to seeing the end results.

A plug I can give now is to Nancy Schwartz, of the Getting Attention blog. Nancy is a nonprofit communications and PR expert who annually compiles the Nonprofit Tagline Report. This year's report was just released and is available for download by clicking this link: In the report you'll learn "How to Build Your Nonprofit's Brand in Eight Words or Less..."
  • The 10 Have-Tos for Successful Taglines. Put your nonprofit marketing into high gear.
  • The 7 Deadly Sins. Examples of what not to do.
  • What Makes a Winning Tagline. Winners of the 2009 Nonprofit Tagline Awards.
  • Over 2,500 Nonprofit Tagline Examples. Put them to work for tagline brainstorming.
Enjoy the report, and thanks for reading!


  1. I am a Development Director and COO for a small political non profit called Change Congress. ( I would say in my role, I fundraise first and my cause comes second. I would like to think of raising funds for any non profit a higher goal than choosing to only raise for one organization or cause. The role of a fund raiser is to literally raise the level of funds being circulated in the "giving" community anyway, right?

    Monica Walsh

  2. What an interesting question. I'm glad that they're thinking through it. I'm a social worker, but a "big picture" social worker--policy analysis, advocacy, community organizing--and I teach similar social work students, and they really do have a hard time figuring out the jobs that are good fits for them, since anything labeled "social worker" is usually for counseling or other direct services, and so the catch-all "program director" or something similar is used, which can range from an administrative assistant to the kind of advocacy and personnel/outcomes management work that they'd love to do. I thought only we 'macro practice' social workers had this problem, so it's great to see others attending to it!

  3. I have held a number of positions in non profits, primarily as a program manager/ director/ coordinator. I think that there are a few issues for which I would take a wide range of positions in order to further the cause, and there is a narrow range of positions for which I would be happy to do the job in (almost) any non profit.

  4. hey! i am currently a university student majoring in finance and accountancy. Deeply interested in community issues since young, I have always wondered - cause or money?

    I came to a conclusion: when you feel deeply for your cause, you would be able to raise funds for your cause because others would be able to see your vision and feel for it as well. when they are enrolled, the money will come in naturally.

  5. I think the problem in classifying jobs reflects, in part, an unfortunate bias against professionalism in the sector. I'm a marketing communicator. I've used words, images, and messages in multiple media to promote professional services to Fortune 50 companies, puppies and kittens to their potential rescuers, my own services as a personal trainer, LCD television sets, and a program for children with parents in jail.

    The way I look for work in the nonprofit sector is to look for communications opportunities, and then narrow it down to positions available within the causes or organizations I want to support. Going the other way around - cause first - has the pitfall of getting me called in to interview with the overwhelming number of glorified secretarial positions that still exist in the nonprofit world.

    Small for-profit companies, too, expect professionals to work without assistants and do their own clerical tasks. I have been disappointed - both as a worker and as a donor who wants money and talents used well in organizations I support - by the persistent practice of using workers with decades of experience to do general office support, reception, and the like in nonprofit organizations.

    Classifying jobs by the cause is rooted in the notion that being willing to do "anything" is a sign of commitment. In my view, commitment to a cause entails finding a place where my strongest and most advanced skills can be useful, not where I can be a warm body.