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Andrea L. Norman, MBA
Director of Research
and Health Services
Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS
So many people are searching for meaning and happiness. They want soul-soaking peace that grounds them, the deep satisfaction of knowing they made a difference and, oh by the way, a way to support their family would be nice! That search combined with the tremendous shifts and losses of money, possessions, and position that has occurred during the Great Recession makes it no surprise that many people are considering switching careers into a nonprofit environment.
Before you make the big leap, there are small steps you can take that will make an impact and determine whether or not the nonprofit world is for you. You can find depth and meaning by focusing on learning, compassion and contribution to expand your impact in the world, experience the nonprofit sector and make yourself happier along the way.
Regardless of the economy, your resources, or the political climate, there is always the opportunity to learn more. By learning and reading, you grow your world, your self, your compassion and tolerance for the differences that are all around us. Educational institutions like ASU and others are actively promoting online courses, as well as other resources available on the Internet and at local libraries. Find a subject and immerse yourself. Read about it. Talk about it. Think about it. Saturate yourself. Then, look for a way to use that knowledge in a nonprofit setting as a volunteer. Whether you complete a small project or become a regular volunteer, you will learn more, make a difference, and add to the foundation of knowledge that enriches your life. You will have the opportunity to explore new environments and contribute to your community.
Some causes are easy to love. Others stretch us. They stretch our compassion, understanding, and tolerance. Volunteering and working in the nonprofit sector offers the opportunity for tremendous personal growth. It is easy to romanticize the nonprofit sector when you are cozy and comfortable in a for-profit environment. There are many more resources available in the for-profit environment. By volunteering or working at a nonprofit, you gain perspective about the realities of this often resource-challenged sector. You gain insight and perspective into your own and other's lives. The loss of that contract, a less than desirable car, the inability to go to the mall and spend becomes less tragic. When you work with people who do not know where their next meal will be, perspective becomes clear.
Time. Money. Expertise. Every nonprofit organization needs money. There are countless needs and not enough resources. But contribution is not just about money. The nonprofit sector needs your expertise, goods, time, and care. Every person that gives, whether through the United Way campaign, by walking in a mission-focused 5k, or slipping their change into one of the collection boxes at Walgreens, Safeway or another retailer makes a difference. I cannot put too fine a point on it. EVERY DIME counts. The March of Dimes built a glorious, impactful hundred year-old nonprofit that nearly wiped out polio by just asking for dimes. When the press lauds multi-million dollar gifts, it can be discouraging for those of us who cannot afford that level of contribution. Yet, every day even one dime can make a difference. When I was juggling small children, a complex and demanding career, a husband, household, and all of the other complexities associated with a full life, I could not contribute as much as I would have liked. But, as Mother Theresa said, “I may not be able to do everything but I can do something.” By providing even small contributions, I made a difference and my load was just a little bit lighter. Every connection, email of encouragement, smile to someone who is having a rough day makes our community better.
By enriching your life through learning, exercising compassion and contributing your time, money and expertise, you will be on the path to finding meaning and happiness. You will also find that you have more knowledge and perspective to decide whether or not the nonprofit world is one that you would like to embrace on a full-time basis. Just know that you CAN make a difference without heaving your entire for-profit career out the window. Any steps you take will make us all that much better.
Andrea Norman is the Director of Research and Health Services at the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS where she leads a staff of 20 in the behavioral health outpatient clinic, clinical research, medical nutrition/wellness clinic, and client services administration. A recipient of a federal Office of the National Coordinator scholarship, Andrea is currently pursuing a post-graduate certificate in Healthcare Informatics. Andrea’s background includes leadership roles at IBM, PriceWaterhouse Coopers, various architecture firms, and her own small business. Andrea earned an MBA from the University of Southern California in Finance, where she was a Simonsen Fellow.
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Read Martha Miner's "Tips on landing a job in the nonprofit sector."