Resume Tips (Non-Profits): How to Make a Remarkable Impression on Paper


Your professional resume is the MOST important thing prospective non-profit employers will review to decide if you get an interview or not.  A well-articulated cover letter is the second most important thing, but if your resume doesn’t demonstrate the skills the employer is seeking, even an astounding cover letter won’t compensate.

So how do you make the most of this opportunity?  How do you make a stellar impression using just words?  And what’s different about a resume focused on non-profits versus a for-profit job?

The tips below will help you to make your resume shine.  By using these ideas, your resume will be a step ahead of most other applicants.

  1. Tailor EACH Resume You Send Out

This is especially important if you’re applying to organizations with differing missions or to different job roles across organizations.

For example, your experience may encompass several areas of working in a nonprofit (or in transitioning to the nonprofit sector).  You may be open to a marketing position, a fundraising position, or community outreach.

Each resume focused around those differing job titles should be tweaked to reflect the best match possible.  A prospective employer wants to be able to envision you working in their organization within the role being advertised.  Make that as easy as possible for them to imagine!

2. Focus on the Missions that Move You

Your resume should include information beyond your skills in a technical sense.  Nonprofit employers certainly look at skills and qualifications, but they also tend to take a deeper look to see if you could potentially be a good fit to work with their team in furthering their mission successfully.

Include a bit of personal information: hobbies, interests, and anything that speaks to the mission of the organization to which you’re applying. 

3. Research Each Organization to which You Plan to Apply

Unless the position being advertised is a confidential job listing, you should research the organization online to learn as much as you can about their mission, core values, activities and interests. 

Find the organization’s website and social media pages, and look for information that would be useful in demonstrating the best fit possible between what you can offer as an employee and what they are doing as an organization.

Incorporating those key messages into your resume (and cover letter) can give you an edge over other equally-qualified candidates.

4. List Your Job History in Reverse Chronological Order. 

Include the dates employed, organization/company name, your job title, and a brief description of your accomplishments at each job. 

You have only seconds to make the cut when a prospective employer looks at your resume.  Your resume should be easily scan-able for the best chance at making it into the right pile.

5. Quantify your Impact.

Wherever possible, use numbers to quantify the impact you had in your previous positions.  Rather than simply stating “responsible for membership growth,” include details such as, “increased membership revenue by 70% over a three-year period.”  If you managed a budget, include the budget size. If you managed employees or contractors, include how many. 

This level of detail provides a much clearer picture of how well-matched you may be as a candidate for the position you are seeking.

6. Use a Simple and Professional Format.

Use a standard font type and font size (no smaller than 10 point). 

Stick to a one page resume format unless you’re seeking an executive-level position (and then, two pages should be the maximum).

Use a consistent formatting style for ease in scanning your employment history.  For example, bold all organization/company titles, put all job titles in italics, etc.

Keep it simple!  Too much bolding, italics, and different fonts will detract from the aim of making your resume an easy read. 

7. Include Your Name and Contact Information at the Top of the Page

Be sure to include your email address, phone number(s), social media handles (if applicable and not detracting…see the next tip below for more about that)

8. Review Your Online Presence and Revise As Necessary

Employers can and will review your social media pages if you are a candidate of serious interest to them.

Before you apply for any jobs, look through your social media pages and remove anything questionable.  In review the comments and photos on your social media pages, think from an employer’s perspective.  Would YOU hire you?

Derogatory comments, negative/complaining vibes, too many pictures of you out drinking – revise and revamp.  Ensure that the image you’re putting out there is friendly and welcoming – NOT potentially off-putting.

9. Include a List of Highlighted Skills and Attributes

This helps a prospective employer easily see the skills and attributes you want to highlight.  Place this section near the top of your resume, and when researching potential employers, be sure to use this section to speak to the top skills/attributes they are seeking in a candidate.

Especially if the employer has included items that are considered a bonus – highlight these for them!  Are they seeking someone who speaks both English and Spanish?  Or someone who has experience with a particular software tool?  Add those items to your “Highlighted Skills and Attributes” list.

10. Proofread once, twice, three times!

Your resume should contain ZERO typos or misspelled words.  While that seems obvious, you may be surprised at the number of resumes received that have multiple typos.  Do NOT give prospective employers a reason to toss your resume into the “NO” pile.   

A well-crafted easy-to-scan error-free resume is one of the easiest ways to market yourself as a top candidate.  Given two equally-skilled candidates, the one with the better resume and cover letter will be the first to get called for an interview.  Use these to your advantage!