Most of us have had days at work when we think about chucking it all and doing something “meaningful” with our lives. Certainly, Becky Margiotta did 15 years ago, when she worked as a stockbroker. Yet Margiotta, who left the financial sector and has since led a campaign across the country that mobilized 186 cities to put 105,000 homeless people into permanent housing, cautions against over-romanticizing the non-profit sector—or discounting the value of working for a corporation.
After all, just because your company is turning a profit doesn’t mean that its products or services aren’t doing good. “For example, take a mortgage broker, whose line of work isn’t usually seen as altruistic,” says Margiotta, now the co-founder and CEO of The Billions Institute, which trains executives at foundations and nonprofits how to design and lead large-scale change. “But mortgage brokers who work in the spirit of service and conscientiousness do help people—they help them realize their dreams of owning a home.”
Still, if you find yourself pondering, more and more, a switch to the nonprofit world, here’s Margiotta’s advice:
#1. Take clear stock of what matters to you.
“Think about what makes you cry so hard that you are willing to commit your life to stopping it. Or what makes your heart sing so that you want to help it grow? Tapping into your deep, intrinsic motivation for doing the work will enable you to stay committed and effective through the inevitable ups and downs.”
#2. Tell your network.
“I have a strong bias for action. So once you know you want to make the jump to the nonprofit world, I recommend reaching out to everybody. I found my first job working on homelessness through a former professor at West Point who introduced me to my boss in New York.”
#3. Roll up your sleeves and get dirty.
“Don’t be too precious for grunt work or think that you’ve already paid your dues. There’s something very valuable and powerful about seeing things from the ground up. Countless days I started my work at 5 a.m. so I could listen to what people on the streets said they needed. That firsthand knowledge served me well when I led the 100,000 Homes Campaign, and I couldn’t have gotten the same information if I had worked from 9 to 5.”