Of Nuclear Weapons and Nonprofit Careers: Keys That Release Your (Career) Energy
Here’s a puzzle: What two things require two keys to unleash all the energy you could ever imagine?
A nuclear weapon and your nonprofit career.
OK, I really don’t know whether it just takes two keys to unleash a nuclear weapon. I dearly pray that however many keys it takes, we lose most of them. But I know that if you want to unleash all the energy potential in a nonprofit career, you need to have two key things nailed down pretty well.
Key No. 1: What are my skills?
Giving yourself an honest answer to that question is the most important career move of your life. When you get that right, half the work’s done.
Are you an extrovert or an introvert? Are you good with numbers or better with people? Are you organized? How do you get your information — are you an audio learner or a visual learner? Do you usually lead by example or “command and control,” or don’t like leading at all?
Getting to the answers of these and other questions — whether you ask your friends, work with a coach, take an assessment like the Myers-Briggs or watch yourself as you go through the day — can take you down some unexpected paths. You might even share my experience after I read aloud the results of my Myers-Briggs assessment to my wife, who remarked, “What, you didn’t know that about yourself?”
I would argue that most career issues come up because someone — whether it’s you, your employees or your boss (it’s always the boss, right?) is misplaced in his or her role. Are you supervising a fundraiser who doesn’t like to meet people? Are you the one who is bored all day because you’re crunching numbers when you would rather be meeting with clients? Is it clear that your boss would rather be a teacher than a leader?
Getting you in the right place, surrounded by your boss and co-workers in the right place, not only makes everyone emotionally happy, but more importantly leads to productivity gains that you might never expect. It’s the reason baseball teams spend so much money on a scouting system. They know that when they put the right players on the field in the right positions, it’s World Series time!
OK, so everything up to now can apply whether we’re in New Delhi making widgets for export or in the slums of the same city feeding the poor. That’s not to say that it’s unimportant, but there’s nothing unique to nonprofits about knowing what you’re good at and then finding work that suits your talents and strengths. At that rate you could be just as happy at the USO, the U.S. Army or U.S. Steel.
So what is it about nonprofits that makes the difference in us and our colleagues. And maybe more importantly, what’s clear when its missing? What’s the second key?
Being mission-driven is the most important aspect of the nonprofit world. The fundraisers know it. They’ll tell you that you stand a much greater chance of getting a major gift from someone who is enamored with your mission than from someone who doesn’t care. But you’re not raising money, you just want a job, right? Sorry, you’re wrong.
How is knowing what mission suits you the second key to your career? Why should you care whether you’re an accountant for ADM or the Archery Federation? You’re good with numbers, and it’s all for a good cause, right? Wrong again! As a nonprofit veteran of 30 years, or a young idealist wanting to advocate for her or his passion, or a for-profit refugee wanting to explore the nonprofit land of milk and honey, knowing what mission you care about releases more (career) energy than you ever thought possible. In the nonprofit world, being well skilled is not enough. You’re not complete until you’re “well purposed.”
How do you see this in the workplace? Anyone run into the hostile college department secretary who barely acknowledges the students? Have you seen the social worker who really does believe that “this would be a great job if it weren’t for the clients?” It might be that after starting out with great enthusiasm it’s now time for another mission. It could be that for them, the job was a paycheck right from the start, and the mission never really mattered. It shows, and everyone suffers for it. The clients, their fellow staff, and most important, they themselves.
The good news is that getting the key to your mission could be simpler than getting the key to your skills. What mission means something to you? What impacted your life? Was it living on a farm or visiting Yosemite? Was it your mother’s cancer or your grandfather’s retirement community? Did your college education change your life, or did you make it without college and you want to see others get a chance? Whatever it is, it may take some introspection, or it may just hit you.
Turn these keys on at the same time — the skills you were born with and developed, and the mission that you’re passionate about — and you can release more career energy that you ever knew was there.
Matthew A. Hugg developed The Campaign for You career-management system to use his 20 years in charitable organizations to help nonprofit leaders — and those who aspire to be nonprofit leaders — find the jobs they want at the organizations they love. He can be contacted at mhugg@TheCampaignForYou.com or 610-831-5544.
Matt Hugg is an author and instructor in nonprofit management in the U.S. and abroad. He is president and founder of Nonprofit.Courses, an on-demand, e-learning educational resource for nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and volunteers, with hundreds of courses in nearly every aspect of nonprofit work.
He’s the author of "The Guide to Nonprofit Consulting," and "Philanders Family Values, Fun Scenarios for Practical Fundraising Education for Boards, Staff and Volunteers," and a contributing author to "The Healthcare Nonprofit: Keys to Effective Management."
Over his 30-year career, Matt has held positions at the Boy Scouts of America, Lebanon Valley College, the University of Cincinnati, Ursinus College and the University of the Arts. In these positions, he raised thousands of gifts from individuals, foundations, corporations and government entities, and worked with hundreds of volunteers on boards and fundraising committees, in addition to his organizational leadership responsibilities.
Matt teaches fundraising, philanthropy and marketing in graduate programs at Eastern University, the University of Pennsylvania, Juniata College and Thomas Edison State University via the web, and in-person in the U.S., Africa, Asia and Europe, and is a popular conference speaker. He has a B.S. from Juniata College and an M.A. in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Matt has served on the board of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Nonprofit Career Network of Philadelphia and several nonprofits.