What’s great about the nonprofit sector is its diversity; there are a number of great opportunities for many of all backgrounds and interests to launch rewarding careers.
But it can be difficult for those of us who are in the early stages of our career to find opportunities outside of work that can really enhance the skill sets that we already have or help bring us to the next stages of our leadership journeys.
I can remember feeling unsure about how to make the most of my experience while at my first job out of college. Sure, the work was challenging, the environment was supportive, and I was learning a lot about the sector and my own leadership potential, but I didn’t know or have a vision of where my work might take me. And most importantly, I didn’t feel as though I knew who I could turn to for support that could identify with or provide a greater context for my experiences as a twenty something woman of color looking to launch a career in the public sector.
So, when the opportunity to apply for a fellowship program tailored to diverse early career leaders in my field and in my age range came up (read more on this program down below), I knew it would be the spark I needed!
Searching for a spark
Career-igniting opportunities are not about taking on extra work or putting in extra hours to the point of feeling as though work never ends. They are about nurturing and developing the talents and skills that you, as an early career changemaker, bring to the table. Sure, pushing yourself to take on more is part of the process, but what you’re going for is a separate space and time for thinking about your role and your work. This will help you create a vision for yourself and a plan for how you will make change happen.
Are you ready for a career-igniting spark?
Maybe you feel stuck in the same routine or that you’ve hit a wall. Maybe you are a visionary thinker but aren’t sure how to connect the dots of your career and get to your end goal. If you’re like me, maybe you’re always thinking “What comes next?” but need extra help focusing on making the most of where you currently are.
You might be looking for a career-igniting sparks for all of these reasons and more! Ask yourself these questions to get a sense of what kind of opportunity you’d like to pursue:
- What are the personal leadership skills I’d like to develop?
- Where can I access or develop a supportive and engaging professional network?
- How can I bridge the gap between my current role and where I want to be in five years?
- How much time and money can I (or my organization) commit to a leadership or personal development opportunity?
Here are some resources with different approaches to supporting early career changemakers:
- How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: In a sector where norms can vary by organization size, region, or the issue you are working to address, this book is a great one-stop-shop to getting a basic understanding of the tools you need to thrive no matter where you are. One of the co-authors of the book, Rosetta Thurman, also authors the Happy Black Woman Blog, which is also packed with easy to use tools for personal development and growth. It’s easy to think about careers as being separate from personal life, but when purpose and passion are at the core of what you do, having a clear sense of where you want your values to take you on both sides of your life is an asset which can help you go even further.
- Fellowship for Emerging Leadership in Public Service (FELPS): I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased since I completed this program in 2012 and it’s based in New York City. It is targeted specifically to young professionals who are primarily two-to-four years out of college, or early in their public service experience, and offers opportunities to think about career trajectories, leadership goals, and to network. I walked away with connections to peers who were struggling with a lot of the same challenges at work, a renewed connection to my purpose, and a clearer view of the public sector landscape. It is run by the New York University’s Research Center for Leadership in Action, which focuses on developing transformative leadership in the sector. Not in New York? Look at local colleges and universities to see if they offer similar programs.
- StartingBloc: What could be better than coming together with a group of your peers to dream big and challenge each other to reach your highest potential? I like to think of StartingBloc as the place for the dreamers who have a great idea for social change, but need a strong network of support to figure out what it will take to make it happen. And best of all, there is no minimum requirement for age or work experience. StartingBloc is open to professionals from across the country and hosts five-day Institutes in different cities each year.
- Young Nonprofit Professionals Network: Developing a strong network of people you can turn to for advice or support (not to mention for some great happy hour memories), is a key ingredient to success and happiness in this sector. YNPN has a national network of local chapters, and brings them together to hear more about what is happening in the sector, access job and career growth opportunities, and connect with others who are in similar roles. Find your local YNPN chapter to see the kinds of opportunities they offer!
- Fulbright Program: Expand the number of opportunities you’re interested in exploring by looking abroad. The Fulbright Program is a U.S Department of State funded fellowship which gives participants opportunities to conduct research or teach English abroad for nine months to a year. There is no minimum work experience required for some Fulbrights, but it is extremely competitive and fellowship opportunities vary by country. If you’re looking to apply what you’ve already learned from your work and educational experience or build on it, this is a great way to move off the traditional career trajectory. And you’ll be a part of both a local and global network! Explore other fellowship opportunities here.
And don’t forget: just because you’ve found your spark doesn’t mean you’re done. Your personal and leadership development is an ongoing process which doesn’t stop once you’ve completed a program or tried out a few new strategies. Keep exploring ways of navigating your career with purpose – you never know how far it might take you!
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About the Author | Pamela Dicent is the Program Director of Exploring Leadership at Coro New York Leadership Center where she empowers high school students to create meaningful change in their school communities. When she’s not at work, you can find her planning her next getaway or working on her Italian skills.