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From Passion to Profession: Turning Community Service into a Career

Photo of Hannah Kimani

by Hannah Kimani, Engagement Manager

A few years ago, a college-aged colleague posed an unexpected question: “What’s a nonprofit?” A surprising question considering we both worked at one. However, I could empathize, as I too had been clueless about the nonprofit sector at one point, let alone considered it as a potential career path. Nonprofits were integral to my upbringing, from community centers to museums. Yet, like numerous young individuals, I was oblivious to the extensive dedication of those behind the scenes who sustained these organizations. Without this awareness, I entered the workforce believing that serving the community was commendable but could never be a full-fledged profession.  

Despite societal pressures pushing me towards financially lucrative careers, my passion for community work remained steadfast. As a teenager navigating college applications and career options, I committed myself to volunteerism. Although I faced discouragement, I persisted in volunteering outside of my professional life. Years later, while working in a museum gift shop, I encountered professionals deeply devoted to their mission, sparking my interest in the nonprofit sector. Their passion inspired me to dive into the world of nonprofits, slowly uncovering the mysteries of boards, grants, and even decoding what a 501(c)(3) is. I engaged in new opportunities within the sector and began participating in professional development initiatives. These steps resulted in a transformation of my mindset, propelling me from a state of uncertainty to one filled with inspiration to envision a new path ahead. 

Many individuals aspire to make meaningful contributions to their communities but may feel uncertain about transitioning into a new career field, a challenge I once faced. Nevertheless, here are some personal steps I took that can help initiate your journey into the nonprofit sector:

  • Identify Your Passion: Reflect on the causes or issues that ignite your passion. Whether it’s education, environmental preservation, social equity, or healthcare, seek out a cause that deeply resonates with you.
  • Gain Relevant Experience: Nonprofits value diverse skills and experiences. Consider volunteering to gain firsthand experience and learn about the sector. It offers networking opportunities, serves a mission, and can be your first step toward a new job.
  • Stay Informed: Attend nonprofit networking events, workshops, and conferences to connect with professionals and explore job opportunities. Stay updated on sector trends by subscribing to industry newsletters and following nonprofit organizations on social media. Utilize features such as DANA’s career board and events calendar to stay connected with the sector.

Steps such as these ultimately led me to where I am today: able to collaborate with hundreds of nonprofits, each making a significant impact in our community. Observing the dedication of these individuals serves as a reminder of the realization I had years ago—that discovering passion in one’s profession is truly attainable. Through our efforts, every one of us in the sector holds the ability to inspire passion, lighting the spark for the next young individual who may come asking. “So, what is a nonprofit?”