Depending on where you work, you may notice something interesting about the social sector these days: It isn’t full of just nonprofits anymore.
The social-good sector is expanding. In addition to nonprofits, many businesses, social enterprises, and government agencies are leveraging social innovation and cross-sector collaboration to tackle some of our most pressing problems.
For social change, this growth presents an opportunity to leverage the strengths of each sector. Nonprofits can serve populations others can’t and be more aware of community needs, where as businesses can quickly adapt to shifting demands. Government brings massive amounts of resources to any project and can help things scale. No single sector can accomplish sustainable change on its own and working together, organizations from all sectors can achieve way more than they could alone.
For job seekers, this growth presents an increase in opportunities to create change, but also a new set of questions and challenges. Here are some tips on how to navigate the new social-change landscape.
Go beyond passion
According to a Net Impact study (pdf), social impact is becoming a prime motivator for employees, particularly students about to enter the workforce, so odds are your competition will be just as passionate as you are. Having generic motivations for giving back will not get you far in an interview process. Instead, learn the specifics of the organization as an effective change agent, how it’s making an impact, and why. Focus on getting your hands dirty as often as you can through volunteering and internships at mission-driven organizations so you better understand how organizations are working in this new ecosystem. Think about what talents and skills you bring to help the organization move forward. Bringing this knowledge out in the interview process will put you far ahead of your competition.
Understand other sectors
While the reality is that the sectors have always worked together, in these times of scarcity, if you want to accomplish large-scale change you need to reach outside your organization to work with others. More and more, social-impact organizations need people who understand other sectors and leverage what is going on outside their organization to supplement internal programs and activities.
This doesn’t mean you need a career in banking before pursuing your social-impact career. Understanding the language of different sectors and paying attention what’s happening outside your own areas of interest can go a long way in connecting with others. To start, subscribe to some of the websites that talk about trends and opportunities in each sector. You can find a few by searching through categories on alltop.com and reading cross-sector websites like Stanford Social Innovation Review and Aspen Institute. When crafting your resume and cover letter for potential jobs, let your knowledge of the position shine by using the right language.
Ok, so this is just good life advice. But it’s even more important when creating social impact today. Working well with others, both internally and externally, is a must in our more collaborative society. Organizations need connectors and facilitators, and doing this effectively can be more challenging than you think. Cultivating facilitation and networking skills will serve you well throughout your career, no matter where you end up.
The sooner we can embrace this shift toward working together, the sooner we can accomplish big things.
Has this shifting landscape changed the way you think about your career? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
About The Author
Jeff Raderstrong is the Founder and Principal of UnSectored. He has run successful, long-term online campaigns in the social innovation space, such as developing and executing the social media strategy for Leap of Reason, a book on nonprofit outcomes management with over 55,000 copies distributed. He co-founded the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell (SEG) in college, which is now a functioning microfinance institution with an over $25,000 portfolio. In the spring of 2012, he assisted in a campaign to have SEG recognized as one of five White House Campus Champions of Change. Join us for our discussions on UnSectored—we’d love to hear what you have to say.