When I was 20 years old, a student at Boston College studying business, I knew that I wanted to combine my business education and my passion for social change into a career but I had no idea where to start. A fruitful google search and many informational interviews later, I was lucky to land an internship and then a full-time job at the Social Innovation Forum (SIF), which at the time was part of the Root Cause Consulting. At the SIF, we engage nonprofit leaders and funders and provide them with engagement opportunities, education, and capacity-building while building networks and social capital to help accelerate social change. Over the past 6+ years, I have built the foundation of my career at SIF and I have continued to be amazed by the robust, dynamic social sector in Boston and the opportunities within it.
These days, I take every informational meeting request from students that comes my way. Some of these students are already quite sophisticated and well-informed about career opportunities in the social sector. But more often than not, I have the privilege of sharing with them what google shared with me all those years ago. For those just getting started, here are my best insights and pieces of advice:
- Nonprofit career opportunities exist along a spectrum, from small, grassroots nonprofits doing amazing work on the ground to large, national or international organizations with offices in dozens of cities (learn about Transformative Culture Project, Company One Theatre, Zumix, and Year Up among other fantastic Boston nonprofits). This means that there are jobs to be had in nearly any social issue and functional area that one can imagine – you can be an accountant for the environment, a marketing professional for women’s rights, an HR executive for education, or an IT consultant for immigrant advancement. The sector needs artists, researchers, field staff, and data geeks – whatever your talent, you have value to bring!
- You can work in an office and still have impact. If working at a direct service nonprofit focused on one social issue isn’t the right fit for you, there are organizations like the Social Innovation Forum that work to build capacity across the nonprofit sector. There are consulting firms, venture philanthropy firms, accelerators, and advisors working with organizations of all shapes and sizes to help them grow, strategize, communicate, and partner more effectively (check out FSG, New Profit, Social Finance, and Third Sector New England to start!).
- Going corporate? That’s okay! If your job isn’t directly focused on impact, find a meaningful volunteer role and commit to it. Nonprofits need informed, committed, and passionate volunteers too. You might some day join a nonprofit Board, become a donor yourself, or help your company develop a great nonprofit partnership. You might be an “intra-preneur” at your firm, making internal improvements to systems and processes that can have real impact: finding out where your 401k is invested or raising your voice on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within your firm.
- BUT FIRST, find your “why”. It’s important to focus in on your “why” and to determine your purpose before applying to every exciting position that you see. Understanding your own values and the “why” that drives you to whichever “what” you choose, will help to ensure that you find an organization whose culture, mission, and vision will allow you to learn, thrive, and bring your full self to the work. I find Echoing Green’s Work on Purpose Guidelines and the process of writing personal mission statements to be helpful tools in determining your why. But there is no substitute for reflection, learning, and showing up to really understand your purpose and passions.
- How do I get started? Get out into the community – attend events, volunteer, and ask for informational meetings. Reflect on your “why” – think about what keeps you up at night or gives you goosebumps. Taken together, you’re bound to begin a fruitful social impact journey. The opportunities are out there and the social sector needs you – whether as an employee, volunteer, funder, or partner – so raise your hand and, when all else fails, there’s always google.