Alumnus John Delapena (‘19) knew he wanted to help children and make the world a better place. Initially, he thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a pediatrician, so he started at Biola as a pre-med major. He later switched to political science. Delapena eventually found his calling in nonprofit work as a grant writer at The Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation, an organization that helps impoverished youth around Southern California.
Are you looking to pursue a career in a nonprofit setting? Nonprofits have roles that appeal to a variety of majors, from communications and marketing, to the humanities, to Biblical studies and Christian ministries. Many nonprofits do invaluable humanitarian work with some of the most marginalized and vulnerable in society, locally, domestically and abroad.
Biola’s Career Center recently brought in five professionals, including Delapena, who work in a wide range of nonprofits. These professionals shared career advice with students in a discussion panel, and covered everything from changing career goals to work/life balance. Below are some highlights of the wisdom shared during the event about working at a nonprofit.
1. Your first job or internship does not define your future career
Madeline Kronenberg is the communications manager at Dressember, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness of and fighting against slavery and sex trafficking across the world. Krondenberg was not a fan of her first internship. At the time, she was an undergraduate psychology major at Lee University in Tennessee, but did not really have a desire to pursue that field. After she graduated, Kronenberg split her time between waitressing and travelling the world for the next three years. She is now living out her passion to tell the stories of others and “help people find their voice,” as she puts it.
“You don’t have to take the super conventional route,” said Kronenberg. “Cool opportunities are ahead of you regardless of which path you take.”
Internship Program Manager and University Recruiter at World Vision International Jessica Namkoong did take a much more conventional path to her current role. Namkoong started at World Vision as an intern. She also encouraged students to be flexible with their career dreams.
“Throughout the years, your dreams switch and you discover where your sweet spot is,” said Namkoong.
2. Expect to perform tasks outside your job description
Alumna Brigha Sawyer (‘17) is a grant writer at the Union Rescue Mission (URM), the largest homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. However, her tasks are not limited to her job description. Sawyer also does work on URM’s marketing side, running their various social media accounts. That is no small role, as URM’s Instagram account has more than 8,400 followers and their Twitter account has over 7,900.
Sawyer, who has an intercultural studies degree from Biola, had no prior experience in social media. However, her willingness to take on an unfamiliar challenge and learn on the job is just one example of how professionals in the nonprofit world have to be ready for anything.
“You wear a lot of hats you don’t ever expect to wear,” said Sawyer.
3. Prioritize self-care
Those who work in the nonprofit sector will likely encounter stories of poverty, injustice and human struggle on a frequent if not daily basis. This can take an enormous mental and emotional toll on a person, whether they are personally encountering these harsh realities in the field or witnessing them vicariously by supporting those who are. Thus, it is important for these professionals to be attuned to their own emotional well-being and find ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the gravity of their work.
Delapena is balancing his full-time job with his last semester as a full-time student at Biola, where he will graduate with a political science degree in December. He recommends the practice of sabbathing – taking a full day away from anything work-related in order to recharge through healthy activities.
“Do something that brings you life,” said Delapena.
When Kronenberg first started her job at Dressember, she found herself passionately consumed with thoughts about the importance of the organization’s cause. She struggled to keep up with friends and socialize or even relax at home outside of work, and she knew she needed to develop some new habits in order to avoid burnout.
”When you’re connected to a cause, it can easily take over your whole life,” said Kronenberg.
So she made her weekends “sacred” and designated for rest, logging out of Dressember’s social media accounts every Friday and not logging back in until the following Monday.
Additionally, Sawyer quickly found herself overwhelmed by the extreme poverty amidst the homeless crisis in L.A., where Union Rescue Mission is on the front lines. She started to feel secondhand trauma from what some of the people she worked with were going through, and had to process those emotions.
“Pay attention to your body when you’re feeling these things,” said Sawyer. “Find resources to help you cope with them.”
4. You get the chance to grow and develop your character through your work
Kara Bautch has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but her love of storytelling has taken on a new form in her current role as Director of Brand Advancement at Make-A-Wish Orange County/Inland Empire. The Make-A-Wish foundation raises money and resources to grant “wishes” of children who are battling or have battled serious illnesses.
After spending time coordinating public relations for an insurance firm, Bautch jumped into her current role and had to spend some time adjusting to the grassroots nature and lack of resources that are common in the nonprofit world. However, she can easily find ways in which her job has benefitted her worldview and perspective on life in ways her previous work could not.
“It renewed my faith in humanity, seeing people come together to help strangers like they do through Make-A-Wish,” said Bautch.
While none of these practices are exclusive to non-profit work, they can provide longevity and value to anyone working in the field.
Do you want to start exploring whether working in a non-profit would be right for you? The Career Center would love to help you with your next steps. Make an appointment with us on Handshake!
Austin Green is the resume reviewer and writing ambassador for the Career Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.