There’s a common narrative in the nonprofit sector that we’re all inherently and deeply connected to the mission of our respective organization. What’s often overlooked is the fact that many of us jump between sectors and hop around issue areas over the course of a career. This doesn’t mean that we’re not passionate about the mission, or a range of missions; it means that we’re “cause-flexible.”
This can lead to an uncomfortable tension of navigating the dual pressure of finding the right organization (because you care equally about education, voter rights, and criminal justice reform) and the right position that aligns with your skills and interests.
Here are some things to keep in mind while you're job searching if you identify as cause-flexible.
Being cause-flexible can be a blessing in disguise
The great thing about being cause-flexible is that it opens doors. Some job seekers know the precise type of organization they want to work for. Their career will always be tightly focused on organizations that are aligned with their cause of choice.
And while that can lend itself to a very focused job search, it can also limit the types of opportunities that present themselves.
Cause-flexible, on the other hand, can lend itself to a more malleable career arc. Your passion for community gardens and nutrition could lead to a job working as a VP of Strategic Services & Operations at the National Park Foundation in D.C., or as a Community Nutritionist at the Food Bank of New York City. An interest in direct service and working with kids could lead to a job working as a Site Manager for the YMCA in San Francisco, or as a Youth Education Coordinator at the Tilth Alliance in Seattle.
Strategies for finding a job when the possibilities seem endless
The hard part is over and you’ve accepted the fact that you’re not mission driven. Congratulations! Sometimes that can feel like a dirty little secret. The next two steps are fairly straightforward:
- Identify your issue areas. They can be closely connected, like affordable housing and urban planning, or be totally unrelated, like animal welfare and education reform.
- Figure out the best functional roles that match your skills and interests. This can be the toughest part. Here are three big picture questions you should ask yourself as you think about applying for a job:
- Are you a direct service person? It’s not for everyone, so if it's not for you, that's okay! It’s important to know whether or not you want to work directly with clients.
- Make a list of the tasks that you are confident you could do everyday and love.
- What tasks would you hate to do everyday? Same as above; make a list!
Now that you have your issue areas, functional roles, and favorite (and least favorite) things to do on the job, you should be able to determine which roles may be a good fit and which ones you can cross off your list.
Put your plan into action
Evaluate jobs through the rubric you’ve created for yourself. This will help you stay focused as you look for work. Keep a running list of organizations that may house the types of positions you're interested in.
Also, don’t be afraid to take chances. If the job looks great, but it’s outside of your mission focus, go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose!
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About the Author | Sarah Goff has nearly fifteen years of experience working in NYC’s public sector in what can only be described as an elegantly haphazard career path. She geeks out on politics and social policy and is deeply passionate about the the social sector. She has participated in numerous public sector fellowship programs and has her M.S. in Public Policy from The New School.