Advice For A New Grad: Social Change Careers

C Now - DePaulLike many of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers, I am writing this week to offer advice to a new grad (or graduates) about non-profit, social entrepreneurship, or other social change careers. As someone who has had a long career which includes nonprofit work, this is especially timely - I'm more than happy to share my experiences. (Plus, I think it will make for some interesting online conversation.

So without further adieu, here are some suggestions for current grads looking to enter the realm of nonprofits, social ventures, and other social change agencies:

  • Working in Social Change Doesn't Make You Special - It's very easy to believe that because we may be working for noble causes, we are somehow provided with a greater nobility. It's still very important for us to maintain a sense of humility - that we're all in this together, and should advocate for collaboration and community over "gatekeeping".
  • Your Career Will Evolve and Grow - Although new grads may be
    starting at a relatively low position, their careers are going to change, grow, and evolve. Speaking from personal experience, I started as a substance abuse counselor, entered community mobilization and nonprofit administration, and now consult for nonprofits and social ventures....which I never predicted would happen. Change is something to be embraced, welcomed, and nurtured in a nonprofit/social change career.
  • Technology Itself Is Not A Cure-All - With increasing awareness and advocacy around technology (such as open source software, social media, etc), it is very easy to forget that technology and web-based tools are a means to an end (serving a specific business purpose) rather than ends in
  • Network, Network, Network - Although Millenials are really good at reaching out and connecting, many other graduates of various generations sometimes avoid this. One good tool for researching contacts and finding professional information is Linked In...and using Twitter and engagement platforms like Hootsuite can be beneficial in engaging in real-time conversations. (Plus, Chicago has a variety of networking events, and Networked Chicago lists various networking events and opportunities. And speaking of which....
  • People Are Not Means to An End - Whether they're networking contacts, volunteers, clients, or online advocates, other people are human beings to be treated with respect and dignity. It's a lesson that can be easily forgotten in day-to-day work, but is the most critical lesson I've learned from working in social change
  • Burnout Is Avoidable Through Balance - Working in nonprofits and social change often means hard work, long hours, and handling difficult situations - all of which can lead to burnout. Having a life outside
    of work is critical, and taking time off to recharge can be extremely healthy - and helpful - to your career.
  • Professional Development is a Good Thing - Whether it's via coursework at brick-and-mortar venues, sessions at the Donors Forum, or online venues like, learning is never complete, and any opportunity to expand your knowledge and awareness will be beneficial to your career.

So for all graduates, regardless of age or program, remember - nonprofit/social change careers are an adventure to be embraced. I don't regret any of the professional decisions I have made, and quite honestly, I sincerely hope people entering the field can have a varied, interesting career.

Any tips, guidelines, or resources for new grads looking to enter the nonprofit/social change field? Please feel free to leave that information in the contents. In addition, there are a variety of other ways to interact, including:

And as always, thanks for reading!

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