Breaking into a new field can be difficult. If you’re interested in making social change your full time gig, consider these five career paths and the advice experts have for getting started.
Anthonine Pierre, Lead Community Organizer at Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC) advises that if you want to become a community organizer, you need to volunteer:
“A lot of people who are organizers got into this work by volunteering. They joined a group and worked hard to make a difference while also learning about the field. I believe in volunteering on principle, but strongly recommend it for people interested in community organizing. You have to learn to navigate the various organizations working on policy and on-the-ground change and you have to learn how to connect with the people you serve.”
- To do: Search for volunteer opportunities in the community you want to serve.
Gregory Cendana—Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) recommends having a mentor if you want to become an executive director:
“Get to know executive directors or people in similar positions. If you can, get them as mentors. Learn and understand what makes them good at what they do but also talk about the challenges they face and skills you should you pick up so you can handle the job.”
- To do: Reach out to executive directors in your network to become your mentor.
Amy Sample Ward—author, speaker, and Executive Director of NTEN believes that in order to move up and stay current in a career as a social media manager, you need to build your network:
“There is a lot of work that happens when people who are fairly knowledgeable partner with someone who works in a different organization, and they do something together. People usually try to change jobs, but our sector is inconsistent with titles. For example, a communications manager may oversee all of the communications work of an organization while a communications director has a very narrow scope of work they handle. So if you need extra support, try to create something new with someone else so you can point to your accomplishments. This helps you get more outside of your day to day.”
- To do: Build your professional network through social media platforms.
Tim Ifill, Co-founder and Executive Director of Philly Fellows, believes with a clear and focused passion, you can begin starting your own nonprofit:
“Matt and I started this a year or so after we graduated from college. We didn’t know much about the nonprofit sector and didn’t have much in the way of a career history. But we had an idea and we felt like we could do something in Philly that would benefit the city and the sector. It was great to go to civic leaders and for them to get over their skepticism and sign on to the program. You’d think there’d be a story of us fighting to get through as 23-year-olds, but everyone in the nonprofit sector in Philly was so open and offered their assistance in various forms. What we were doing was asking them to sign on to something instead of helping us build something. “
- To do: Take a self-inventory to gain a firm grasp on your mission and talents.
Asiyah Sharifi, a lawyer who focuses on gender justice and women’s entrepreneurship in Afghanistan, explains why you need to learn hard skills if you want to have a career in international development:
“It’s a risk to hire someone internationally; it’s not enough to be eager. You have to have an added value and language is one of them. And what can you offer that’s not already in that country? This is where a technical skill is important too. Soft skills are more difficult to translate internationally. An engineer might have an easier time finding a work.”?”
- To do: Learn key skills that can fill the needs of international organizations.
Do you have advice about starting a career in the nonprofit sector? Tell us in the comments.