03/11/2013 03:33 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

5 Ways to Find a Career That Makes a Difference

You're here because you want to do good. You want to stay informed. You want to take actions that help instead of hurt the world around you. Perhaps you are even inspired to make doing good your full-time gig.

But a social-impact career requires more than good ideas and good feelings. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if you're ready to create a career that gives back.

1. Volunteer: If you have a cause you're passionate about or simply want an introduction to nonprofits, try volunteering. Not only will you get a glimpse of the inner workings of a nonprofit, you'll also have an opportunity to strengthen your skills and connect with like-minded people. And not all volunteering needs to be unstructured or unskilled; if you have a background in marketing or finance, for example, organizations like Taproot and Catchafire can match you with nonprofits that need your help in those areas.

2. Think beyond traditional nonprofits: While nonprofits can certainly offer great opportunities, the social-change landscape is evolving. From Benefit Corporations and impact-investment firms to corporate foundations and creating your own organization, there have never been so many ways to do well and do good. Spend some time exploring these different organizations, paying attention the kind of opportunities they offer, skills and education required for these positions, and causes they focus on. If you need extra guidance in your research, NYU Wagner has a great activity for exploring new careers.

3. Consider a fellowship or internship: Perhaps you need more structure and support as you enter the social-change space. If that's the case, consider a fellowship. Ashoka, Echoing Green, Encore, and ProInspire all offer fellowships for people at different stages of their careers and launching new ventures. Internships offer a similar structure and provide the hands-on support you may need to break into the social-sector (and, no, you're never too old for an internship).

4. Connect with others: Know someone already doing good full time? Chat with them about their career path. Find MeetUp or GrubWithUs groups that talk about giving back, whether it be on the intersection of social change and technology or community service. Join online communities and follow blogs that focus on careers for the public good -- places like,, and Idealist Careers.

5. Define your needs: Here's where many people get stuck when it comes to pursuing a social-impact career. Can I work for social change and pay my bills? The problems seem so big, can I really make a difference? In the social sector, there is an emphasis on having values, tangible impact, and purpose -- at the organizational and individual level -- align. Yet this is why the former points are so important: You can't make a difference until you find that sweet spot of knowing what you need from a workplace and career, what talents you can offer to the world, and what the world needs.

Are you interested in a social-impact career? What's stopping you from pursuing one?