In the five (six! six?) years since graduating college, I have worked in progressive non-profits, international humanitarian aid, at a start-up pro-choice organization, and for a few months as a volunteer in Rwanda. I don’t know how to quanitify this particular set of experiences, but an anonymous post back in July - Why is it so hard to find a feminist job? - led me to believe I might have something useful to contribute to the conversation. Let’s call this kind of employment “working for good,” whether it’s in reproductive justice or animal rights, fighting fracking or the keystone pipeline, or pounding pavement trying to get progressives elected to office.
So you want to work for good!
The absolute first thing you need to do is decide where this priority fits into your life. How important is it to you to work for good? And, once you have decided that this is a priority, how important is it to you that you get paid to work for good? In a previous post that sounds totally unrelated to this topic, “There’s No Right Time to Have Kids,” I made a point that is actually incredibly relevant to this decision-making process: you need to order your priorities. As Anonymous pointed out, the vast majority of for-good work is concentrated in metropolitan, coastal areas. If you want to work in policy, your options are DC, DC, and the occasional less hands-on job in NYC. If you want to work for one of the leading women’s-rights organizations, you’re looking at NYC, NYC, NYC, DC, and the occasional SF. If you want one of these jobs, you probably need to be ready, able, and willing to move. Probably at a moment’s notice, for very little money.
Why are all the “good jobs” concentrated on the coasts? Because that’s where the money is. Here’s an important thing to know: non-profit is just a fuzzy, friendly way of saying “tax shelter.” Some non-profits do really good work. Some non-profits do really crappy things. All non-profits spend an overwhelming amount of time fundraising. You won’t believe it’s real even when you’re part of it. Aside from that, it’s clustering. Many for-good jobs are in DC because the national office needs to be close to Congress. Many non-profit and feminist jobs are in NYC because you want to be where your colleagues are, where the UN is, and where you will have the most access to big events, TV stations, and – I mentioned money, right? - donors. It still isn’t a perfect system, because you’re always not somewhere. Executive Directors in NYC have to travel to DC frequently and vice versa, and everyone has to travel to LA.
I’ll move. How do I find one of these jobs? There are more job lists than you can possibly imagine. For DC jobs, for $5 a month (used to be free, sorry!) get on Tom Manatos’ job list. Check Congressional websites directly. Get on twitter and follow every org you love – they’ll often tweet job postings. Make a list of every place you want to work, figure out where on their website they post their jobs, and check that part of the website every few days (this is how I got my job in NYC). When someone mentions an org, go right to the website, and if you like it, add it to the list. AWID has a great feminist job listing you can sign up for. And guys – Idealist, Idealist, Idealist. I got one of my DC jobs from there. Contact your friends who do the work you want to do and tell them you’re looking, they will send you things. When you apply for a job, see if you know anyone who knows anyone. Lots of people want this work and not much of it pays, so knowing someone who knows someone might be the difference between your resume getting a cursory scan and being really carefully examined. Finding a job is work. It takes a long time, even for people with tons of experience and many contacts. The more flexible you are the easier it will be. And if you can’t or won’t be flexible, remember what you’re gaining. It’s not, “I can’t find a job,” it’s “I have a loving partner and a dog and I get to keep them and that’s awesome.” Remember, these are your priorities. You have to own them.