I had no idea that I wanted to work at a nonprofit when I graduated - Charity Savant

When I graduated from a Sexuality Studies degree a few years ago, I ran into a roadblock. I had always assumed I’d be an academic for life, but had now decided I wanted something less theoretical and more concrete. The problem was: I had no idea what kind of job I wanted. I just knew I wanted to make a difference.

I was adept at writing long theoretical papers that compiled lots of sources, but couldn’t really speak to many on-the-job, marketable skills. Sure, there are research jobs, but the kind of research experience they want is a little more practical than what I had to offer. I couldn’t do statistics but I could wax eloquent about Foucault. Useful, huh?

I didn’t know what industry I wanted to work in, never mind what type of role I would want. And so I began applying for everything and anything that seemed remotely “social justice-y.” What I couldn’t articulate – yet –  is that it was a nonprofit job I was looking for.

Here are three things that I’ve learned since:

I needed to hone in on what I want to do, not where I want to work

Applying for every single entry-level opening that came up at any nonprofit, charity, social purpose enterprise, or government agency meant that I was attempting to be qualified for a whole variety of functions. Counselling, fundraising, research, programming, marketing, project management – you name it. Rather than focusing on the fact that these roles all supported my vague social justice-y goals, I should have been spending the time to hone in on what type of responsibilities I would want to have as an employee, and where my existing strengths and experiences might match up best.

I don’t want to work frontline, even though I thought I did

I started my job search thinking that most roles would be frontline, dealing directly with vulnerable populations. As it turns out, not only is that untrue, but I wasn’t qualified for – and didn’t really want – those frontline roles. Without a social work degree and some real expertise for working with marginalized communities, those roles were out of the question. And I ultimately prefer the “behind-the-scenes” roles on the administrative side of things, like communications and fundraising.

There’s a lot more to the work than just knowing about social issues

I thought my degree made me qualified for a job in the social sector because it meant that I knew a lot about social justice issues and structures of power. But knowledge of the issues is just one piece of the puzzle; a qualified nonprofit professional has a whole lot more to offer. Regardless of the role I’m in, there are concrete skills I need to have to support my work – and they’re not things they taught me in school! Things like: how to take meeting minutes, write a report, facilitate a discussion, plan an event, market my cause, measure digital engagement… I’ve learned it all on the job, but wish I’d had the know-how when I’d entered the sector.

Five years into my nonprofit career, I’m still learning so much every day. But at least now I know that the nonprofit sector is where I want to be!

Tune in regularly to Charity Confidential to hear members of our sector anonymously sharing the stories that we usually just whisper about. Have a story to tell? We’d love to include your voice. And you don’t have to worry about your boss finding out  – we encourage all contributors to blog anonymously and to disguise identifying details. We all have stories to share so we feel less alone. Share yours by emailing info@charitysavant.com.