Searching for Non-Profit Jobs as a Person of Color

January 18, 2021 – Melissa Madzel has been a managing director with Koya Partners, part of the Diversified Search Group, since 2015. She leads and contributes to executive searches, mainly in the social justice community, as well as developing and deepening Koya’s relationships in the progressive movement.

As the managing director, equity initiatives for Koya Partners, Ms. Madze is responsible for ensuring that Koya’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is infused into every aspect of the firm’s work with clients and candidates. In leading this work, Melissa applies her experience as a search leader for numerous organizations, as well as her background in social work and staff development.

“As a person of color in the executive search field, I’m asked time and again about how to navigate a non-profit job hunt for people of color,” said Ms. Madzel. “In my own career journey and in my work, I have seen how black folks and people of color experience the job-search process differently and may have different outcomes. Below are some tips that I’ve seen work.”

Here, Ms. Madzel outlines seven tips for non-profit job hunting for people of color:

1. Invest in Yourself –  “Put time and effort into updating your LinkedIn profile, your resume and letters of interest for the roles you’re seeking,” Ms. Madzel said. “If your budget allows, work with a professional career coach to have someone craft your resume and LinkedIn profile with you. Dedicate quiet time to the work – lock yourself away from your kids and turn off your social media updates for a few hours,” she said. “Push yourself to look critically at your materials and ask for help from a knowledgeable friend or a professional.”

2. Understand the Search Firm Game – “As you see compelling non-profit postings, take note if those searches are being led by a search firm,” said Ms. Madzel. “If so, apply using the application instructions, but also follow that firm on social media, sign up for their newsletter and check their website regularly to keep an eye on other searches that they are leading. Look for additional search firms doing work in your area. Many firms have a process for potential candidates to submit their information and become part of the firm’s database and network. Take advantage of these opportunities to get plugged in.”

3. Name Your Identity/ies – “For years, we’ve seen that discrimination and bias in hiring works against people of color,” Ms. Madzel said. “Today’s non-profit space is different. Many organizations are specifically interested in hiring people of color, especially into leadership. Highlight your identity in your application materials so that no one has to guess. A letter of interest can include the phrase, “As a black woman…” or your LinkedIn profile and resume can include your participation in the Latinx employee group or other similar examples from previous jobs, education or volunteer work.”

4. Know Your Tolerance Level – Ms. Madzel also noted that organizations can be at any point along a journey of understanding diversity, equity and inclusion, and that you should consider what you need to be effective and successful. “Look for signs to understand where organizations are,” she said. “Explicit language about race/gender/sexual orientation/physical difference/citizenship/incarceration history in job descriptions or other places on the website is a good sign.

Ms. Madzel said if you have the opportunity, consider asking a question like, “What is your organization’s approach to diversity, equity and inclusion?” If they stumble in the answer, it doesn’t mean to run for the hills, but just know that the organization or that individual may be early in their journey.

5. Be Realistic About Your Needs – “Consider the things that you need to be successful in a role,” Ms. Madzel said. What are the salary range and benefits that you and your family need? What would working remotely look like for you? Do you have childcare or care for other dependents set up? “Know these things before your interview, so that you can assess whether or not you are ready for the role and if the organization is ready for you,” she said. “If you are working with a recruiter, share all of these specifics with them and get feedback on what may or may not be feasible.”

6. Be Ready to Negotiate for Yourself – Ms. Madzel said that once you know your own needs, do research to understand what a reasonable compensation package is for a role, including salary and benefits. This information can come from 990s (the public tax documents filed by non-profits) that usually show the salaries of senior leaders. You can also ask friends in comparable roles to share their advice. “With recruiters, talk early and honestly about your compensation needs,” she said. “It is perfectly acceptable to ask about the salary range in the first conversation with a recruiter, to avoid wasting anyone’s time. If recruiters aren’t involved in the search, ask about salary and benefits around the second set of interviews.”

7. Don’t Skip the Small Stuff –  Every interaction is a piece of data for a recruiter, hiring manager or search committee. “Remember to check for typos, to respond to emails in a timely way, and to send thank you notes,” Ms. Madzel said. “These small details can make or break someone’s candidacy. If interviews take place remotely, dress professionally, and set-up your camera with a good angle and minimal distractions,” she said. “Remember to say that you want the job and why. What will you bring to this role that no one else can?”


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