The Thoughtful Cover Letter

by Karen Alphonse October 21, 2014


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Bridging the Gap

by Karen Alphonse September 30, 2014


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Two Ways to Work Your Network

by Karen Alphonse December 17, 2013

Q: I have contacted everyone I know about leads for jobs.  A few have been helpful; most have been non-responsive. What do you suggest?

A: Respectfully, stop and reassess.  When people suspect you are “using” them, they may clam up and withhold likely leads or limit communication.


You may be casting your networking too widely contacting people only remotely interested or influential in the spheres you need to enter.  Alternatively, you may be so focused on getting a job that you are ignoring other vital and viable connections.  At its best, networking is about having an influential group of people respect you and your work such that they are willing and pleased to make referrals on your behalf.  Coming across as desperate, over-eager or focused to the exclusion of building genuine ties sends a mixed message of desperation and self-absorption.  This is not a great selling point.

Stand back, and look at what you have been doing. If your methods resemble any of the aforementioned issues, stop.


Define Clear Goals

Think about your goal, and make sure you can clearly define it. It might be something like, “I would like to speak with a senior leader at X Foundation.”  In this case, your next step is to go back to your contacts, and see if you know someone at X Foundation in a senior or junior role.  That person would be a great networking prospect.  Another possibility for networking sources is identifying someone who is a client/partner/ally of X Foundation.  All of these potential sources can offer you useful information and feedback.

Before approaching these sources, however, you have a little more work to do.  Once you have identified people associated in some way with your organization of interest, take it one step further, and assess the strength of your connection to those people.  Those on your list with whom you have a solid relationship should be marked with an asterisk and approached first as they have an interest in your relationship, and approaching them should not feel strange or desperate to either side.  If your relationship with someone on your potential source list is luke warm, defer networking with that person for a while.

Go through this process painstakingly for each of your 3 most urgent career goals.  Carefully assess your contacts and your relationships to identify the ones most likely to be productive for you in the long term.  See if you can come up with 10 relatively warm connections.

Act As If Time and Money Are Abundant

Pretend you have time even if your goals are urgent.  This will put a check on your natural impulse to contact everyone in a panic.

Make believe you are heir to a trust fund even if your funds are low.  This will preserve your sanity and give you the benefit of thinking out of a place where rational judgment prevails over a sense of dread or hopelessness.

Cull the List

Return to your potential source list.  If you have identified 10 prospects, draw up a time line that includes reaching out to them in a week.  Think about how you want to do outreach.  Email, phone and personal meetings all work.  However, it is up to you to know and decide which medium works best with each person.

Be Selective About How You Connect

One medium often neglected is the handwritten note, yet it remains a powerful communication tool.  Another way to make live connections is by meeting people for coffee.  If possible, you treat.  Your generosity sends a message that others will positively interpret.

Before meeting/contacting each person, think carefully about how you met each person, how you came to know of their professional lives and why you would like to build a long-term relationship with them.  Even if job issues are uppermost in your mind, really dig deeply to see how you can build a solid connection based on professional respect and long-term goals.

Identify Career Events/Training Possibilities

Conferences, workshops, webinars, seminars and even personal development training all create opportunities to talk about what you want to accomplish in your career.  Meeting with like-minded folks increases your awareness of yourself and of the ways in which you can contribute to your next organization.  Similarly, list online training opportunities that will make you a more desirable employee.  Many of these courses are modest in cost.  You do not need to list every one of them on your resume, however, you will directly benefit from new learning and from updating your professional skills as you work through career development issues.

Contact Karen Alphonse at or visit for more information about our career coaching services. is a job board for nonprofit job seekers interested in fundraising, management and executive nonprofit jobs.

(image source)


How To Become a Great Leader

by Karen Alphonse December 3, 2013

Q: How do good leaders operate? What strategies do they apply as they run their day-to-day businesses? 

A: Leadership may be as much the result of introspection as it is the result of successful execution.  Self-knowledge triggers the kind of action that makes strong leadership.

Several gifted analysts give useful guidelines for addressing leadership and its many forms.  Recently, I have been leafing through, The Self-Aware Leader (Daniel P. Gallagher and Joseph Costal, The Self-Aware Leader: A Proven Model for Reinventing Yourself. American Society for Training & Development, 2012) which is a book endorsed by Michael Brown, the CEO and co-founder of the Boston-based, not-for-profit organization City Year, Inc. The authors tout self-awareness as the defining attribute for middle managers who aspire to higher levels of leadership noting that self-awareness operates as “the foundation of reinvention.” Additionally, the authors suggest self-awareness serves as both “binoculars” and “compass” allowing a leader to anticipate what is coming down the line “with ample time to navigate” while staying on track and feeling confident about changes in direction (16).

It is also noted that at the middle management level, most managers are either people oriented or they are task oriented.  The people-oriented leaders focus on relationship building, influence and communication (Gallagher and Costal, 6).  Their task-oriented peers focus on achieving results. Significantly, the authors note that higher up the management chain, these distinctions tend to disappear.  The reason for this is that when managing “a more complex team” or multiple teams, it is necessary to find balance to succeed which is where self-awareness comes into play (Gallagher and Costal, 6).

Much of the Gallagher and Costal’s analysis focuses on how professional and emotional self-awareness affect overall leadership acumen and the many minute ways in which enhanced self-awareness can and does improve overall leadership (10-12).  Self-awareness is the base which then connects with “pillars of reinvention” including:

  • above average network and support systems;
  • proficiency in critical and systems thinking;
  • a savvy perspective of the political landscape, and
  • a courageous drive for magis (more for the good of others) (Gallagher and Costal, 46)

Let us examine the idea that self-awareness is the basis of leadership, and that the distinguishing feature defining the highest level of leadership involves self-knowledge and the ability to reinvent self.  This is profound.  Recently, as we recruiters have counseled various levels of professional clients, it has come clear that major contributors to overall success, beyond mere competence, are flexibility and state of mind.  This self-awareness concept draws on the attitudes and knowledge that help create internal, personal balance.

Even in career planning, a participant’s attitude toward feedback and set-backs is telling. Professionals who are not particularly self-aware tend to dwell on negative scenarios, set-backs and controversy, and they get “stuck” in a model that stifles growth and mobility. Those who tend to demonstrate resilience and have an internal sense of self will see difficult circumstances in a more positive light while keeping a focus on solutions.  This second group exhibits self-awareness and, therefore, leadership.  As the authors note, “[i]n order to stay relevant you need to reinvent and in order to reinvent you must be self-aware” (Gallagher and Costal, 29).

Contact Karen Alphonse at or visit for more information about our career coaching services. is a job board for nonprofit job seekers interested in fundraising, management and executive nonprofit jobs.

(image source)


Before Creating a Job Description: Purge, Then Draft

by Karen Alphonse February 21, 2012

Your trusted Chief Operations Officer has taken a dream job at an international organization, and your local not-for-profit needs to rehire someone to take her place.  What steps can you take to create a space for her successor?  How do you draft the position description to attract and explain the role to the next COO?

This scenario is actually quite complex.  Every departure holds a multi-part story.   It does not really matter whether a professional was asked to resign, voluntarily took cues or moved on to wonderful new opportunity.  No matter the details leading to the departure, in the background are some unspoken goals and expectations that were probably not met.

In the case of the employee who accepted another opportunity, the unmet goal probably had to do with her own career prospects within the organization.  She rightly sensed her opportunities to move up in her current role were limited, so, she joined an organization that seemed to meet the immediate goal for upward mobility and affirmation.

In the case of less pleasant separations, there may be many unmet (unspoken) goals at hand.  The employer organization may have had performance expectations that weren’t met. On the side of the employee, the unmet or mismatched expectations may have involved reporting relationships, professional development opportunities, compensation, overall morale or the corporate culture.  Such factors directly impact employee performance and perceptions of the workplace.    As painful as it might be, it is healthy to confront any and all of these issues prior to taking on the new hire.

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Staffing Needs Are Important in Program Planning, Budgeting

by Sandra Sims October 24, 2011

In a year of higher-than-average unemployment, many working in nonprofits are finding they are providing increasing levels of services to their clientele. For example, homeless shelters have seen a dramatic increase in first-time homeless families which is often caused by job loss.

According to the 2011 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey from Nonprofit HR Solutions:

It is our belief that direct services continues to be the largest area for anticipated growth as a result of the increased demand in services from the American public as they continue to be faced with the challenges of unemployment, job loss, foreclosures and other issues related to economic hardship and related stress resulting from having to live on less.

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Independence and the Leadership Alphabet

by Fredia Woolf July 7, 2011

Independence Day got me thinking about the meaning of the word independence, which led me to wonder if I could come up with a strong, positive leadership trait for each letter of the alphabet.  Here is my unscientific, yet empirical, list of qualities consistently demonstrated by leaders I admire:

Adaptability, Agility – In a world rife with change and unpredictability, knowing when it is time to flex and when it is time to stay firm is a critical leadership skill as is the ability to reinvent, renew and change with the times.

Boldness – The timid, fearful leader is a contradiction in terms.  People follow those who have the courage to think differently from the crowd, to say what they think and who are ready to take risks and action.

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7 Essentials for an Effective, Sustainable, Healthy Organization

by Fredia Woolf May 10, 2011

What’s the point of any organization? “To make money,” says the businessperson.  “To fulfill our mission,” says the non-profit person.  And so begins the false debate that keeps the two worlds separate and often leads to missed opportunities and wasted potential.  If all organization leaders recognized that both financial viability and an inspiring mission are essential, they could then focus on the key levers that would make their organization effective, sustainable and healthy, thus transforming the experience of work for so many people which, in turn, would transform the performance and results of the organizations they serve.

Here are some guidelines for how to do this. Isn’t it time for businesses and non-profits both to take these principles more seriously and put them into practice?

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Salary Ranges, Part 2: Anatomy of a Range

by Joe Brown April 8, 2010

In my previous post, I made a case for the use of salary ranges as the foundation of a formal compensation program for nonprofit organizations. Particularly for organizations experiencing or have experienced significant growth, the use of salary ranges can go a long way toward ensuring salaries are equitable and competitive while, at the same time, managing compensation costs. We also considered the importance of ranges as a communications tool clarifying for employees their compensation opportunities with the organization as well as the relationship between pay and performance.

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Salary Ranges, Part 1: Why Ranges?

by Joe Brown April 6, 2010

In a recent post, compensation consultant Ann Bares questions whether salary ranges, long a staple of compensation programs among America’s companies and organizations, are still a useful tool given the relatively slow pace of salary annual growth during the past two decades. There is no question that administering salaries — and, in particular, differentiating rewards according to performance — is challenging in what I’ve long described as a “four percent world” (or, perhaps, for the past two years, a “zero to three percent world”). However, I believe that for the vast majority of nonprofit organizations, salary ranges remain an important and effective tool. This is especially true for growing nonprofits, which find themselves adding staff and needing to ensure that salaries are equitable and competitive while simultaneously managing compensation costs.

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Non-profit Job Listings

Advice for Job Seekers
October 21, 2014

Question: I am applying for C-Suite position with a company. The position description requires a “thoughtful” cover letter. What does this mean? How do I draft one?

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September 30, 2014

Years ago, I founded a successful social service organization that ran well until I had to take on family concerns. Do you have any ideas about how I can get back to this area of interest when most employers look at my finance and legal accomplishments and want to place me in those kinds of roles?

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September 9, 2014

Question: I am a human resources officer, and our company wants to set up really effective professional development programs. How should we go about doing this?

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August 19, 2014

Question: I am a highly qualified financial manager who just moved across the country for family reasons. The location where I am presently located has much lower salaries than the DC area from where I relocated. I cannot move back to DC to take advantage of the salary scale there. At the same time, what is offered in this jurisdiction is well below what I can afford. I am used to receiving between $150k and $175K per annum, and the offers I have received have come in at $80K or less. What can I do to address this issue?

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July 29, 2014

Question: I struggle to be the kind of boss my employees will respect and like. But, I am often confronted with shoddy work, poor employee attitudes and mistakes that shouldn’t be happening. What I am supposed to do? Can I continue to be nice while things fall apart?

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July 8, 2014

Question: I have been doing international contracts for the past decade. Many of them have been with affiliated organizations. Recently, I saw a great opportunity with an NGO with which I worked several years ago. I want to apply, but I hesitate. Is there some rule against working for the same employer twice? Will the recruiter see I previously worked with them and screen me out?

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June 17, 2014

I am an international development professional. I have worked many years on economic development issues for NGOs in Eastern Europe and Africa. It’s time for me to launch myself as a leader.

I just saw a Director role that has been posted for two locations, Tanzania and South Africa. Both roles look alike. However, the role in South Africa pays almost double that of the other. As well, the South Africa office seems to be the organization’s headquarters. I am interested in both. Please advise.

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May 27, 2014

I am a CFO, and a well-respected, local nonprofit is looking for an operations person with a strong finance background. This is a really exciting opportunity as the organization is in growth mode, and I could see myself leading it one day.

The crunch is about the money. They are offering 40% of my current salary. Although I could scrape by on this sum, it feels like an awful lot to sacrifice. What do I do now?

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