Why am I here? Thoughts on what drove me to the non-profit sector

I tend to spend a lot of my time with my fellow non-profit pros in a networking sense- I am active with YNPNdc and have friends/colleagues in real life and on social media channels that I connect with frequently who are non-profit professionals in a variety of fields, causes, and roles. I recently began branching out my “circle” and going to networking events for my specific field, public relations, and this is when I was confronted with a new kind of “get-to-know-you-question” than those I normally hear with my nonprofit peers and that is, “Why did you decide to go into the non-profit sector?”

I have to admit, sometimes I ask myself this very question. Why did I choose this, over agency work, corporate affairs, public relations in the for-profit world, etc? I certainly find myself thinking of it more when I’m facing a mountain of bills or wishing I could go traveling more often, etc. While my compensation at my organization is incredibly competitive and fair,  I’m not getting rich here, and I’m sure most non-profiteers would agree.

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a seminar and coaching session with the Nonprofit Career Coach, Mark McCurdy, courtesy of a contest I won from the lovely Rosetta Thurman. The seminar’s topic was about “Finding Your Passion” and how to transition into the non-profit sector or obtain employment there, paths to success, etc.  Of the many helpful things shared, one thing stuck out in my mind was the emphasis to “Focus on your mission”. That is, what do you love to do? What brings you joy? Where do your interests lie? Whether it be non-profit or for-profit, I think these are crucial questions to ask yourself when looking at a career path/job. For me, I didn’t set out with this in mind, I just knew that I didn’t want to “work for the man”. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to do something I felt good about when I left the office and headed home at night.

When I took on my current position, I was leaving a temp job in a defense firm that just did not fit me, at all. Great people, sure, but I hated what I was doing in every sense- from the concept to the daily tasks and goals. I interviewed for my current position and found a great serendipity between what the organization did and what I had experience with. My org. serves people with disabilities- I had an aunt who had worked for the Arc and her personal stories had inspired me, I had worked with children who had developmental disabilities in my experiences a child care professional during college, I had taken a behaviorial disorders class in college…all these things added up to me feeling very attuned to the mission of my org.

My experiences in life, and in this job, have helped me develop my “mission”, and when I move forward someday, I will look to this to help guide my search. Mine goes something like this:

“I believe in equal opportunity and equality for everyone- regardless of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ability, age, and any other category society puts on an individual to quantify them and qualify them. I will strive to make opportunities for those who are not afforded them, make known those opportunities to those who need them most, and make the world see that we cannot, as a society, continue to deprive anyone of equality, equal opportunity, and equal chance at success, happiness, and fulfillment.”

How do you know when you’ve found this? For me, it’s cheesy and simple, but it’s that incredible high I feel when I’ve accomplished something that brings me closer to seeing that mission a reality. I wrote a grant for my org and we were awarded that grant, and now our individuals will have access to recreational opportunities that they have not been afforded due to their disabilties, challenging behavior, and the stigma society has placed on them. I am positively beaming today. That feeling, for me, is why I am here.

Why are you here?