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How to Find the Connection Between Your Work and Your Impact

A hand with a butterfly in it.

For many of us who work at a nonprofit, we are pulled into the sector because of our desire to improve or enhance an aspect of our communities or society at large. From arts education, pubic radio broadcasting, youth mentorship and tutoring, to poverty alleviation and homelessness prevention, the scope of nonprofit work is bigger than many people realize.

That being said, many of us likely spend hours in front of the computer inputting information, sending emails, and drafting up documents. While this work is important, it's all too easy to lose sight of the impact of our work.

The impact of feeling disconnected

I experienced this first hand. I have had the pleasure of working and interning at five nonprofits. I entered the sector assuming that I would be out in the city everyday, community organizing, creating speedy change, and passionately speaking to city residents about the cause I was advocating for. Instead, most of my internships have followed the standard 9-5-work day schedule and involved me sitting at a computer, producing meaningful and helpful work, but still…working at a computer in an office.

While my idealism had been a constant and positive motivator, it started to cloud some of my understanding of what really goes into making a nonprofit function and sustain itself; my energy and passion for social advocacy wasn’t paired with the logic and practicality that allowed me to see my work as part of a bigger picture. And because of that, I found myself becoming restless, worn out by 3 PM, and struggling to find the connection between the work I was doing in the office and the contribution I was making to the organization, my community, and social/environmental issues as a whole.

So what can you do to reconnect?

I knew I had to get more connected to my cause by changing both my work and my perspective.

At the end of each workday I would ask myself the same five questions:

  1. Do you feel like you worked with and alongside your community and staff today?
  2. Do you feel like the contribution you made today (no matter how big or how large) was a positive, meaningful, and challenging one?
  3. Do you feel like you had others’ goals in mind and not just yours?
  4. What are you working towards?
  5. Why are you here? Do you want to be here, doing what you’re doing?

I also shifted my routine in the following ways:

  • Taking a step back to appreciate the work of others,
  • Pledging to take breaks from checking my email and other workplace routines,
  • Stepping outside of my office and meeting new people,
  • Asking fellow staff members what brought them to this line of work,
  • Writing daily reminders for myself as to why this work matters to and positively impacts individuals and communities at large

I found that by being mindful of my purpose and my connection to others, I was able to recommit to the cause and people I cared about so much. By reestablishing my place in my work, I was finally able to create a harmonious and effective relationship between my idealism and a strong need for practicality and sustainability. And by refocusing my efforts on the team aspect of nonprofit work, I became proud of the indirect impact and small contribution I was making, especially if in the end, it involved me working towards the greater cause.

About the Author: Dylan Manderlink is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA who studied a self-designed major focusing on theatre, advocacy, and leadership strategies. Dylan is an enthusiastic vegetarian, regular volunteer at her local Humane Society, and current high school teacher in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working/volunteering for nonprofits that are committed to improving the quality of life for all people and raising awareness for community change through service, activism, and the arts.

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