Career Self-Promotion and Mentoring: Professional Development in Nonprofit Organizations

By Dr. Kelley Wood, Program chair, MSA Organizational Management, Trinity Washington University

Students in the MSA in Organizational Management program for Nonprofit Management at Trinity Washington University often use their capstone projects to examine the nonprofit arena, with an eye toward a deeper understanding and improving their opportunities in their career field. Many successful medium and small nonprofits in the DC metro area are the result of an entrepreneur’s vision and drive. These entrepreneurial leaders rarely consider how their organization would thrive if an injury sidelined them or after they decide to retire. When leaders do not engage in talent development, it makes it difficult for employees to see that the organization is committed to them and their professional growth. You as the employee are left to determine what to make of the uncertain situation and to determine what knowledge, skills, and experiences prepare you for professional growth. In this environment, promoting your own career is an important task for young nonprofit professionals.

Career Self-Promotion

Those who get power in organizations take on responsibilities that are extraordinary, relevant, and visible. Staying late and rebuilding the file system on your own initiative might get you a thank you, but does not meet the criteria. To find an extraordinary responsibility you will need to be connected well and know when to volunteer for a project that is important to the organization. The project’s importance makes it relevant. Others need to know it is your responsibility, so your success is acknowledged in a wider circle. Build your confidence by starting smaller and working your way up. This project might be anything the leadership of the organization indicates is important, however it should also be reasonable to expect you will have success in completing the project.


A second strategy is to develop a mentoring relationship, formal or informal, with someone in the organization. A good mentor will be committed to supporting and encouraging your growth, confidence, and effectiveness. It is important to choose a mentor who is similar to you in specific ways: readiness to be a mentor, similarity in non-physical attributes (attitude, interests, knowledge, and skills), level of commitment and participation to being a mentor, and access to knowledge and resources in the organization. Remember to remain open and flexible in choosing a mentor. That superstar you have identified might not have the time or level of commitment you require. However, there might be someone in their orbit, or someone you have overlooked. Take your time and get to know the key members of your organization, and occasionally you might need to go outside of your organization to find a suitable mentor.

If you take the time and effort to invest in your career promotion by assuming responsibility and developing informative and productive relationships in your organization and your field you will find yourself growing professionally, and your career will follow suit.

You may reach Dr. Wood with questions or comments at or 202.884.9227.

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