DePaul University Career Center's Blog

Guide to Crafting your Nonprofit Cover Letter

by Ellie Santonato

You’re a helper and you found your future working for the social-impact, public sector. You may be tempted to use the same cover letter over and over again for your applications. You realize the positions you are applying for are fairly similar and the organizations themselves even have overlapping interests. You want to save time and submit as many applications as possible. However, even though it may save you time, it might not be enough to get you to the interview stage of the job search process. 

It can be hard when applying for jobs determining if your cover letter will actually be read. For the nonprofit industry your cover letter is more than likely going to be read because managers and nonprofit leaders want individuals who care about the social issues they are impacting. The key to writing cover letters for the nonprofit, social impact, public sector is to share your passion. 

Now, you might have some questions about what this means. Do you need to rewrite your cover letter for every job you want to apply for? The answer can go both ways, as you can follow the similar outline and repeat certain phrases or sentences. Below I have outlined the key to writing a cover letter for a career in nonprofits:

Address your Cover Letter Properly

Your cover letter will always begin Dear … and you a good rule of thumb is never write “To whom it may concern.” Nonprofit organizations range in employee size, but it can still be easier to find a name of who to address your cover letter. The job description might include a name and email address or it may provide the position title of who will be managing your role. Take a look at the organization employee page on their website. You are likely to find the name of someone who will read your work. 

If you are unable to find a name or feel comfortable addressing the letter, address the cover letter to the name of the organization. It is a small gesture, but it shows you considered who was writing the letter to.

Show Off what you Know About the Organization

Cover letters are not only introductory documents, but they also act as concise examples of your writing skills. It’s beneficial to view them as brief persuasive essays. Tell the reader what’s exciting about this job in the first paragraph – Answer the question: “Why are you interested in / excited about this position.” You can then support your argument by highlighting your personal brand (why you are qualified for the position). 

Tell the reader “Why them and Why this position”

I call this the passion paragraph because you introduce your interest for the work which you will expand in the next paragraph, but you also expand upon your answer to the question from the previous paragraph,  “Why are you interested in / excited about this position.” To execute this look at the job description what stands out to you about the role and responsibilities. Look at the organization website, what does their mission statement say, do they have a commitment to IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Accountability). Touch on your common interests. 

Highlight your Commitment to Social Issues

If you’ve previously worked for a nonprofit, mention your familiarity with the sector and how your experience will help you in this new role. However, if you are a recent graduate or approach graduation you might now have much previous experience. Mention volunteer experiences or internships you may have had. 

Pro-Tip: Write less about research. If you do not have much experience you might default to writing about your research from your undergraduate classes. This is a great solution to demonstrate competency of content/issue knowledge. However, focus more on the narrative. Rather than explaining your ability to complete and execute a research project, explain how you got into the subject. 

Close with a “Thank you” 

You did it! You wrote a compelling cover letter. Time to thank the reader for their time and consideration. Tell them you look forward to speaking with them further about your interest and qualifications for the position. Remind them of your contact information. Close out with your signature. 


You have your cover letter! Below are some final notes to double check before submitting your application. 

  • Your Cover Letter is 1-page or less
  • It does NOT list what is on resume and instead is supplemental narrative 
  • You mention either position title or the organization in every paragraph 
  • You use “0.5” to “1.0” margins and 10.5 to 12 pt font sizing
  • It has specific references as to why you want to work at the company


Not sure what the future holds? Need support along the way? That’s exactly where we come in. Whether you’re a freshman or an alumnus, it’s never too early (or too late) to utilize our services.

Book an appointment with Ellie, or another member of the advising community through Handshake, or by calling the front desk at (773) 325-7431.

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