Navigating Non-Profit Careers

We were honored to have two panelists come speak at the WCC on Monday about their experiences working at non-profits. Our first panelist was Katrina Logan, JD, an immigration attorney at Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), which is a non-profit specializing in housing, civil litigation, and immigration issues. Our second panelist was Alexis Paza, who works as a Tides Community Catalyzer and helps non-profits collaborate and develop relationships between each other. Alexis and Katrina both gave valuable insight into key parts of navigating non-profit careers.

Finding the right non-profit

One point emphasized was the importance of finding a non-profit that fit well, and seeking additional opportunities to either move up or move on. As Alexis described, “Trust when opportunities fall into your lap, say yes, and trust that one day you’ll look back and make sense of it.” She describe a certain instinct that she felt most people would have when a position just wasn’t the right fit, but also to trust that each position had something to learn from. Katrina echoed this, saying that it may seem there are limited jobs, but there are also indeed many positions opening.

From the get-go there are three main things to look for when finding the right non-profit to work with: mission fit, position fit, and culture fit. Does their mission and theory of change excite you? Do you think they have a good approach to solve the issue at hand? If so, you may have found a mission fit with this non-profit. Do you like what you’ll be doing there? Even though you might not enjoy every task, do you enjoy the day-to-day work? That’s position fit. And of course, do you enjoy working with folks in that position? Co-workers can make or break a positive experience at work. It’s important to know your own needs so that you can form strong connections with co-workers over the meaningful work you’re all doing.

A catalyst into a non-profit career

Both Katrina and Alexis had formative life experiences that either furthered their passion for their jobs, or helped them choose their current jobs. For example, Alexis described how she drove one of her clients home, only to discover the client lived far away from the city in horrendous conditions. This incident made her more determined to help enact social change. In Katrina’s case, Katrina watched as her mother had to navigate a divorce by herself when Katrina was a child. English was her mother’s second language, and she consequently had a very tough time navigating the legal system. However, Katrina also understood the pressure to go into a high-paying job such as law in order to support one’s family. As she said, “If you need to make money to support your family, there’s nothing wrong with going to law school to make money,” adding that what actually mattered was figuring out what to do with a law degree in a way that was meaningful.

“Figure out what gets you out of bed”

Lastly, although Katrina and Alexis both worked in non-profits, they both mentioned that anyone from any level could enact change. For example, someone more interested in fixing social problems using business and entrepreneurship could accomplish impact by working at a for-profit social capital company. There are a lot of ways to tackle issues within the world–what matters is finding something that truly motivates you and gets you out of bed each morning.


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