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What's it like to work for a nonprofit? Building a meaningful social-impact career can be challenging, and not just the part where you have to find open roles that match your skillset. Before you start job hunting, it’s a good idea to know how you can find meaning in your career.

In her Harvard Business Review article, How to Build a Meaningful Career, contributing editor Amy Gallo mentions four categories to keep in mind when considering your own answer to the question, “What does ‘meaningful work’ mean to me?” These four distinctions, identified by Nathaniel Koloc, former CEO of Rework, are ones to consider when starting social-impact work and carving a meaningful career path.


It may seem funny to think about what you leave behind when you’re just getting started on your search, but what you envision as your “legacy” is important to finding work that will not only have significance but also be gratifying. Your legacy is that which lives on even after you leave a particular organization or field.

Take some time to think about what you want to accomplish within social impact, and identify the key points you want to leave as your legacy:

  • What improvements or accomplishments do I want to make for the community I serve?
  • For whom is my legacy? For the world at large, a cause, a particular community, myself, my family’s future?
  • Do I want my legacy to live within a particular organization or be known more widely?
  • Will its impact be long- or short-term? Will it last for generations to come?
  • How will my legacy honor my talents and interests?


Think about the skills and competencies you want to improve throughout your career—these are the ones to include in the “mastery” category. To help you identify these, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which skills do friends and colleagues have that I admire? Why are they important to me?
  • What strengths seem rewarding to me and why?
  • Why do I want to master these skills? For others’ approval, to make a difference, for personal or professional development, etc?
  • What would I enjoy being good at? (This question goes beyond, “What am I good at?”)
  • What will I be able to accomplish with my new mastery?
  • How do the skills I want to master relate to my legacy?


Freedom is defined by Merriam-Webster as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. When starting social-impact work, consider what your career would look like if you were to truly feel free?

For example, rather than looking at salary and benefits for the status you might receive, think about them from the perspective of how much and what kind of freedom they afford you. Salary is more than a numerical amount. When assessing the offer that was made to you, look at whether it matches what you need for the life you want. Ask yourself:

  • What do I need in my life to feel free?
  • What paths can I take in order to gain those things?
  • Who do I know who seems to have freedom in their lives? What do they do to nurture that freedom?
  • Do I give myself permission to feel free in my life? If not, what holds me back?


Koloc shares that mission and alignment are actually not synonyms. Alignment refers to the degree to which the values of an organization match your own.

When you are looking at organizations that have jobs you want to pursue, remember that its mission may allude to or directly state the organization’s values, but they are not one in the same. To determine the strength of the alignment, ask yourself:

  • What values have been prevalent at organizations where I’ve previously worked, and of those, which have most resonated with me?
  • When I think of the values of the organization, how do I feel: committed, proud, authentic, or motivated? Uncomfortable, uneasy, frustrated, or demotivated?
  • If I wasn’t interested in working (or already working) at this organization, what would be my relationship to it? Would I volunteer or donate money, refer consumers to its services, broadcast its petitions to my social networks?
  • Do I genuinely care about the people served by this organization?
  • Are they served in a way that matches my own values?
  • Do I feel like I can “be myself” in my role?

Now that you’ve responded to the questions, create a 1-3 sentence statement that clearly defines the type of social-impact work that you will find meaningful. You can make up your own or use one of these templates as a guide:

  • In order to promote a sense of freedom in my life, my career should provide ____________________, and the values of the organization in which I work make me feel ___________, _________, and ________.
  • To promote my legacy of __________________, I will pursue a career in which I will master _____________________ at an organization with the values of _________, __________, and _______.


By Victoria Crispo

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