Book Review: How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar

Disclaimer: I was asked to provide a review of this book and was sent a free advanced copy and the opportunity to be an affiliate, meaning that a portion of every e-book sale made via links on my blog will go into my bank account.

Nonprofit Rockstar

How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar
Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris
$19.99 / $24.99 (after November 15)

Before I even delved into this book, I had to try very hard to literally not judge a book by its cover. The word “rockstar” and the image of a single person in the spotlight, on a pillar, surrounded by fans, completely turned me off.

Perhaps the target audience is younger than I, more extroverted than I, less advanced in career than I.

Nevertheless I can see the cover and title appealing to those in the first few years in their nonprofit career, keen, and eager to be the face of youth that are changing the world.

But, I’m not judging a book by its cover. I’m judging its contents. So I read the book through the eyes of a soon to be graduating university student, or a young professional fairly new to the sector (though the book’s introduction indicates the intended audience is the latter).

What the book does well:

First of all, the general format of the book appeals to me. I love lists, and I love practical, implementable action items, of which this book has 50 (plus sub-tips).

There are some great tips, including ones related to:

  • Speaking openly about goals
  • Getting management experience by leading committees
  • Stretch assignments
  • Ditching martyrdom

Rosetta and Trista also do a great job of using examples, both personal and of real young professionals, to illustrate their tips. I found this very useful in being able to visualize the practicalities or potential outcomes of their suggestions.

I really enjoyed Rosetta and Trista’s emphasis on the nonlinear career path, though I don’t believe this is unique to nonprofits as they suggest. This advice cannot be repeated enough to those about to enter the workforce or recently within it. Your past job titles or degree programs don’t define you. You do. Repeat: You do.

Another highlight of the book is the attention paid to diversity throughout. If you are a reader of Rosetta’s blog this won’t surprise you, but for those who are not, you will be treated to examples of all sorts: organizations that differ in size and mission, and individuals that different in experience and background. In that sense, I think every reader would be able to personally connect with at least one person sharing his or her story within.

Finally, Trista and Rosetta use an approachable and upbeat tone of voice throughout, so the book is not a heavy read.

What the book could have improved upon:

The book starts off very extrovert-centric. The introduction, which relates being at the back of the room with bad and being on stage speaking with good, casts aside and further marginalizes the oft-misunderstood introverts who very possibly get great work done without making a big fuss about it. (Disclaimer: I am one of those oft-misunderstood introverts. And Note: Sometimes making a fuss about your work is important. And Note: The book doesn’t stay extrovert-centric).

The book is also quite America-centric. Though there is one example given of young Canadian nonprofit staffperson, the specific examples of tools and resources are generally located in the US or directed to a US audience.

One of my largest frustrations while reading was that some of the sections were too short  (e.g. Tip 37: Create Your Own Professional Development Plan is only 3/4 of a page and I would have loved to read more) whereas others are way too long (e.g. Tip 44: Introduce Yourself to a Search Firm is 9 pages long and I feel less relevant to the intended audience).

Because of this, I felt while reading that the book goes all over the place. Because some of the tips were so short, others long, some providing a series of subtips, others with lengthy examples, I felt my brain was getting tugged around. On one hand this makes the book fine to read a tip at a time, out of order, over a long period of time. On the other hand, it made reading the book in one sitting a bit distracting.

The final call:

I think this book could have broader appeal than the intended audience described in the introduction. I think this book could also be suited to students planning on entering the nonprofit sector after graduating, or for any young profession in general, as many of the tips are relevant in all fields.

If you’re tight on cash but interested in this, I would suggest visiting a career advisor, talking to a few people who have jobs that resemble those you aspire to be in in a few years, volunteering, and following some nonprofit career-ish blogs, like Rosetta’s. I’m not a reader of Trista’s blog, but from reading Rosetta’s feed, I recognize many of the tips from previous posts.

Overall, I think it could have used a bit more editing, but offers a wide variety of tips to a young professional which can be used as a diverse grab bag of career advancement opportunities.

Find out more:

You can buy the book (in electronic or paperback version) here.

Find Rosetta on Twitter at @rosettathurman and on her blog at

Find Trista on Twitter at @tristaharris and on her blog at New Voices Of Philanthropy

12 things to do when you leave your job for the next person

As I’ve written about already, I’m heading to Central Asia for about 6 months soon, and my last day of work is today (egads!). I’m currently doing some cross training, and though I’m not perfect, I’m striving to get the following things done before I go to ensure as smooth a tradition as possible.

There’s nothing worse than the only times your name comes up after you leave being in phrases that involve frustration and expletives.

Written documents:

  1. Next 30 days: A list of things that will need to get done in the next 30 days.
  2. Project status: A documents with ongoing projects and their current statuses. I use my email and file folders to create a structure.
  3. Key contacts: Key contacts needed to get core work done, plus list of peripheral but helpful/collaborative/interested others.
  4. Yearly plan: Major dates/deadlines/projects throughout the year.
  5. Philosophical documents: Mission/vision/philosophy/values and other core principles that have guided your work to now.
  6. Support staff: A list of who does what. My student staff keep a constantly updated manual going, and it REALLY helps make onboarding more efficient.
  7. Burn after reading: The down-low on relationships, funding, issues, and other contexts that are important to have a heads up on, but that aren’t “on record”.


  1. Email files: I’m sharing most email folders with the next person. I’m only sharing (and not exporting/importing) as they should only be for reference if necessary. It’s never a priority, but try to clean them up and delete irrelevant ones.
  2. Computer files: Keep them orderly fashion from the beginning (by project/task area) and it will be a huge help. At my last job I had no crossover time with the new person, but I heard back many thanks that all the files were easy to find!
  3. Paper files: I’m not a huge paper file person. But do the same as you should do with computer files.
  4. Online tools: Make sure any surveys/mail lists etc that you are the owner of either get shared or transferred to the new person.
  5. List of passwords and logins.

What do you do to help transition staff changeovers?

Nonprofit career tips by and for UBC students

Along with my colleague Roselynn Verwoord, fellow Next Leaders Network steering committee member, I presented on the topic of careers in the nonprofit sector at the latest University of British Columbia Student Leadership Conference (SLC 2010). As a UBC alum, I’ve presented at this conference before – I really enjoy meeting keen students interested in career development and the nonprofit sector.

The top tip I enjoy sharing with students is how a degree does not define you. You do. I demonstrate this by sharing my main post-university jobs (high school teacher, nonprofit gala event manager, and promoter of student engaged citizenship and community-university engagement) and asking what they think my undergrad degree was in. Chemistry and Biology are generally not the first guesses.

The workshop participants brainstormed different tips and resources related to finding employment in the nonprofit sector. They came up with a pile of suggestions in a really tight period of time – many that were new to me. Learning happens in every direction.

Looking for Jobs and Volunteer Roles

Networking and Mentorship

  • Arts Tri-Mentoring/Engineering Tri-Mentoring
  • Joining Clubs/Student Associations (e.g Emerging Leaders Group)
  • Sharing experience with other volunteers
  • Me Inc. – Commerce Conference (external networking)
  • Parents and family friends
  • Volunteer in residence
  • Professors
  • Friends of friends
  • Mailing Lists/talking to people at fairs
  • Make use of relevant LinkedIn groups (Non Profit & Philanthropic Job Board) and Twitter contacts (via Andrea)
  • Research ideal potential employers and conduct an informational interview (check out a WLU informational interviewing booklet) (via Andrea)

Resumes, Cover Letter and Interviews

  • Research company before interview
  • Career services (for help)
  • Hook for cover letter – be interesting
  • Be specific to job description
  • Be unique, passionate (to certain extent)
  • Interviews –
  • be down to earth
  • practice potential q’s
  • confidence
  • Don’t’ answer questions in conventional way
  • Situation, task, action, result, transfer (technique for answering interview q’s)
  • Reveal your transferable skills
  • Be honest

Learning and Workshops

  • Mentoring Programs
  • Involvement Showcase (CSI)
  • Green Book
  • SLC 2010
  • Google
  • Events UBC Site
  • Career Days
  • Community workshops
  • Company workshops
  • Clubs
  • Go Global (Exchange)
  • Read
  • Community centers/resources
  • Research seminars
  • Research the rules are for the part of the sector in which you’re looking (do you need a specific degree?) (via mjfrombuffalo)

Things NOT to Do

  • Don’t pick something you don’t find interesting
  • Don’t lie about your passion
  • Don’t be inconsistent in your approach (e.g. volunteer work can be just as important as paid work)
  • Don’t have ANY visible content online that’s questionable. Always manage your online personal/professional brand. (via Andrea)
  • Bashing – don’t criticize another organization
  • Don’t name drop
  • No assumptions
  • Don’t ask about wages (to begin with, anyway)
  • Don’t be in it for the money
  • Don’t burn bridges
  • Don’t do it just for the sake of your resume

What a fantastic list! You can find more ideas for young nonprofit professionals in Metro Vancouver here, including common mistakes made by new-to-nonprofit job seekers.

What do you do daily to be a better fundraiser?

Image Credit: Michal Zacharzewski

There are activities and strategies that fundraisers can engage in over time that help raise more funds. Systems, procedures, methods, ladders, etc. that lead to more incoming funds. Sometimes one-time activities or projects take an organization’s fundraising to the next level. What are small things that can be done, however, on an ongoing daily basis?

Straight from the horse’s practitioner’s mouth: I recently asked some of my friends who fundraise what they do daily that makes them better fundraisers. Here’s what they told me (some more “daily” than others)….

1. News and Blogs

I read news and blogs on fundraising (am subscribed to a couple enewsletters) such as Charity Village’s Village Vibe.

2. Online Seminars

I attend professional development seminars through AFP (find the Vancouver chapter of AFP here)

3. Connect to People

I write personal notes to contacts and take the time in phone conversations to connect on a personal level, share my passion for my work and look for common ground to build stronger relationships.

4. Program Elevator Message

I think about and try to verbalize my program’s objectives in a way that anyone could understand and make sure those objectives are aligned with my organization’s mission. Then I can clearly explain to funders how I believe their support will help us fulfill that mission.

5. Prepare for Contact

I look into our records (database and hard files) to see exactly what contact we’ve had with the donor recently/ever. This way I’m knowledgeable on the donors needs and interests. I also have a clear objective for the contact.

Thank you to those that contributed! – Merissa Myles, Virginia Edelstein, and anonymous others.

What do YOU do daily to be a better fundraiser?

3 mistakes of the new-to-nonprofit job seeker

Rosetta Thurman recently wrote an article on the Jobs for Change young professionals section about sabotaging your chances at a great nonprofit job with your cover letter. Her three main points cover the dreaded “Dear Hiring Manager” intro, mixing up the organization name, and finally, not demonstrating any passion. Having conducted a fair number of hiring processes in my current and previous jobs, a few other gems come to mind.

Business lingo. In both interviews and cover letters, hearing my organization being referred to as a company sends chills up my spine. This may not be offensive to some nonprofit hiring managers, but to stick on the safe side, it’s better to use a term like “organization.” I’ve also been in an interview where the candidate (attempting to move from the private sector to nonprofit) spoke of goals of being a senior VP in 5 years. That’s great and all, but nonprofit senior VP roles are few and far between. Plus, it made her sound corporate, and not in a positive way. Understanding the common use of “ee dee”, or Executive Director, vs the less common CEO is also an important distinction. (I blundered my first nonprofit interview by asking what they meant by “ee dee”. Thankfully, I overcame and still got the job.)

Missing the mission. I want to know that you are a fit for the organization. Memorizing the mission statement is a start, but truly getting “it” could be incredibly important for the organization, depending on the role. As is true for most jobs, skills are only one part of your application–fit is just as or even more important. I usually throw in a ‘toughy’ in an interview that links back to the mission. In my current role where community-campus engagement is important, I often ask candidates why they think it’s important for the university to be engaged with its greater community, and what challenges might arise in doing so. It’s not a question than can easily be prepared for, and the answer can make or break a candidate. Usually, if I can’t find someone with the skills and the mission fit, I wait for someone else to come along who truly is the right person to be on the bus (a la Jim Collins).

Buying into nonprofit myths. If you’re new to the nonprofit sector, talk to friends in the sector, or do some informational interviews. As Rosetta Thurman mentions in a separate post on being clueless in the nonprofit sector:

You can’t be clueless about the nonprofit sector if this is the field you want to work in. There’s more to this line of work than handing out food and bell ringers for the Salvation Army. As a future nonprofit leader, you need to know the unique facets of nonprofits, from their business structures to legal requirements to specific training available. All of the information is out there for you to learn, so there’e no excuse for being a total ditz.

Trust me, no one wants to hire a ditz.

What have you come across in your hiring experience? Or have you made a blunder yourself in a nonprofit application process?