What to Consider if You’re Thinking of a Non-Profit Career

By Rubie Simonsen

Whether you are looking to start or transition into a non-profit career getting started doesn’t have to be daunting. Start with your personal story and reflect on lessons that you are uniquely positioned to understand. My non-profit career began with a lot of volunteer and advocacy work related to personal frustrations as a college student. While attending community college, ensuring I gained access to Federal Financial Aid was a battle with lost paperwork, inconsistent understanding from staff members, and lack of streamlined processes.

While I was advocating for my own Federal Financial Aid I realized that it was a very common frustration, which led to organizing meetings with school administration to figure out how the system could be improved to ensure more students could properly complete forms and ensure timely feedback when edits or review were required. These personal experiences are gold mines for cultivating empathy which is a superpower within the non-profit realm. Do you have the ability to relate to the population you wish to serve, and can you get other people to relate?

Upon personal reflection, begin to look for opportunities to interview professionals that serve that population or issue. Shadow them for the day, and then take it further, ask if there is a project you can support them on. Once you begin engaging, judge it. Do you like the work environment? Do you enjoy the day-to-day? Ask professionals what happened on their worst day, and what keeps them motivated? Often times working in the non-profit realm will feel like you are fighting an invisible force that has all the resources and weight in their favor while you scrap together funds for a book drive. Their answer to what keeps them motivated is key, as it often leads to the quality of grit. These people are utilizing an internal passion based on personal experience which has developed empathy which in many cases took perseverance to push through seemingly endless work.

Now that your passion has gotten you engaged enough to act, and your grit has kept you there. How do you remain motivated to grow your skills and fight the good fight? Cultivate a personal space that has nothing to do with your work. Learn to unplug. Give gratitude for even small wins and wash yourself of the battles you cannot win. Take a hike, literally.

Rubie Simonsen is the founder of First Mother Farms and a program manager at WayUp Sacramento.