NPL 273  Introduction to Nonprofit Leadership

Creating a Professional Portfolio

You will want to have a portfolio of your professional work and products.  If you not now, you will most certainly wish you had done so later.


A “portfolio” is simply a collection of examples of your work, loosely organized and thrown together into some kind of folder.  In fact, “portfolio” literally means “something to carry sheets of paper” and was originally used by artists to transport their drawings and by diplomats/lawyers to carry their contracts.  Commercial artists adopted the term to describe a collection of their previous work which they would bring to prospective clients as part of their pitch for getting a contract.  Now, at almost any job interview savvy applicants will bring “their portfolio.”  It accomplishes several goals.  It provides concrete evidence that you can, in fact, do what is being requested of you.  And it provides a tool for structuring the job interview:  You arrive a little early for the interview, hand your portfolio to the receptionist and ask that it be given to the interviewer before your appointment.  When you come into the interview, there she or he sits, looking through your work, and almost invariably the conversation begins with, “I see you’ve done such-and-so; tell me about it,” and you are off on the right foot, talking about something that you already know a lot about.


 Just as there is no single way to write a resume (which should always be in your portfolio, by the way), there is no single way to create or design your portfolio.  There are some things that should always be in there, like a resume and your contact information, beyond that there is no single “best” way. 


Having said that, I recommend that you design your resume around professional standards of performance or achievement, if they are available for your profession, or else around some commonly recognized standards of performance.  While there is no single set of common criteria of “good practice” for nonprofit management or leadership, there are several lists of “knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (KSAs, as the human resources people like to call them) that you might use to structure your portfolio.  Go back and look at the online sources that you reviewed at the beginning of the course.  Or you could use the Divisions and chapter headings of the Jossey-Bass Handbook.  Also, you must decide whether to do your portfolio in paper, digitally (on the web), or some combination.  In today’s world, it is a good idea to demonstrate that you are at home with electronic technology—even world-class artists have begun to put their portfolios on line.


Whatever organization you use, you should have at least one exhibit for each category.  Even if it is not particularly brilliant, you should have at least one exhibit (if the only stuff you have is all really horrid, maybe it would be better to go with nothing—but it will be a neon sign flashing “I stink at this”).  Preferably, you will have several exhibits for each category.  When you go for a job interview, you select one exhibit for each category—the one that best demonstrates your skills and best matches what the employer described in the vacancy notice.  You keep the rest at home for another time (if you bring multiple examples of the same skill, the employer will think that either (a) you don’t know how to discriminate good from better or (b) you like to waste other people’s time). 


At this stage in your career (this is, after all, an introduction to the field), you probably don’t have an exhibit for each category.  That’s okay.  In fact, that is a third use of the portfolio—as a professional development tool.  Your portfolio can begin a discipline that you practice for the rest of your professional career.  At regular intervals, you should review your portfolio.  First, review the structure.  Are the categories still the important ones?  Then, review the exhibits.  Is each one the best you can do in each of the areas?  If not, do something that will result in better documentary evidence.  Your portfolio should be a living document, constantly being reviewed, modified, and updated.


Below, I have included some links on developing portfolios.  Use them at your discretion.  For the purposes of this course, you must design a professional portfolio (online, since this is an online course).  At a minimum, it must have a table of contents (which lists the categories), a resume (which lists your work experience and your contact information), and sections for each of the KSAs that you think you should be developing in this and the rest of your program.  To the extent that you have exhibits which you can include for each category, do so.  Where you have no exhibits, write a brief description of what you will be doing to generate some documentation of that KSA.  At least one category should consider the values of the nonprofit sector, and in that section you should write an explanation of why you chose these particular categories for your portfolio.


Your portfolio is due to me by 12/9.  I will assess it based on the thought that went into its design, not on the quality of the exhibits for each category (except for the essay on nonprofit values).


Links for Professional Portfolios

URSI portfolio guidelines


EFolio Minnesota (MnSCU Portfolio site)


CareerMag Online


Michigan State University Career Center


The City College Career Center


University of Wisconsin River Falls


Nichols College Portfolio Page


Dan Turner’s Workshop (Graphic Artists)


UK Teacher Training Agency:”Maintaining a Professional Portfolio”


University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education (Alberta, CN)


Links for Electronic Portfolios

How to Create an Electronic Portfolio


AAHE Electronic Portfolio Project


Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio


Helen Barrett, “Electronic Portfolios”


Jerry Galloway, “Electronic Portfolios” (Indiana University Northwest)



© 2003 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 5 July 2004