One of the joys of working in the not-for-profit sector or in an ethically-focused position within any organisation is the satisfaction you get from knowing you’re contributing to a better world.
But as with all jobs, things can often end up tougher than they at first seemed.
Particularly for those trying to make social or environmental change, the issues we face can often feel overwhelming. And the difference you’re making might seem frustratingly small in the scheme of things.
When you applied for a role the position description may have described the positive influence you’d have on the lives of disadvantaged or vulnerable people, but months or years in you might find it hard to see the fruits of your labour if you’re working in a corporate services role, like an administration or finance job, rather than more directly with the people your organisation supports.
On the other hand, if you’re working in a direct service role, it can just as easily feel like the problems are huge and inexhaustible, and that nothing will ever really change.
It can be deflating to feel like you’re not effecting the change you thought you would be. So to feel like you’re really working for a better world, here are four ways to maintain your motivation and realise the important role you’re playing:
1. Don’t get disheartened by the big picture
Don’t get us wrong; the big picture’s important – and often inspiring. Without big-picture thinking, nothing new or ambitious would be created. But always thinking about the grand challenge your organisation faces can be a recipe for personal dissatisfaction.
Acknowledging – and taking delight in – small accomplishments can be a better way of maintaining long-term satisfaction in a role, rather than constantly worrying about whether ‘minor’ projects are just tiny drops in a massive ocean. Big picture thinking probably helped you get the job in the first place – remembering to celebrate the little wins could be the mindset change that helps you stay happy in it.
2. Get out and about
Here’s a common story: you got involved with a great community organisation because you knew they had a reputation as effective and successful agents of change. But now, 12 months into your role, you’ve been so swept up in things like reporting, funding issues and organisational requirements that you feel like you’ve hardly had any time to actually see or hear about the impact your work or you organisation has been having.
So what can you do?
One option is to get out of the office and do some research for yourself – release your inner journalist and speak with frontline staff at your organisation, or if its appropriate, the people your organisation aims to assist or benefit. If their stories help you to realise the ways your work affects people in positive ways, it might be the most inspiring few hours of ‘professional development’ you ever participate in.
3. Think outside your own role
To rejuvenate and add variety to your everyday workload, don’t be afraid to seek out tasks beyond the bounds of your job description. Getting involved in projects at the organisation you work with, but which don’t necessarily involving your team or department, is an excellent way to change your perspective on things. For example, you could volunteer at a fundraising event to see how your organisation interacts with supporters – and generally there are a myriad of ways to assist, from event logistics, to promotion, to volunteer coordination.
It’s also an opportunity to be exposed to new people, new ideas and new ways of thinking about the issues you and your colleagues are tackling.
4. Link up with others in your sector
As mentioned above, a fresh perspective can be the ‘circuit-breaker’ you need to keep up your motivation – and this can just as easily come from outside your organisation as from within it.
Conferences, networking events, MeetUp groups, webinars, podcasts, even just joining an email list. Within the issue you’re working on, there’s likely be an abundance of people and organisations to connect with who will have unique approaches, perspectives and ideas to contribute. If nothing else, it can be inspiring to be reminded that you’re part of something much bigger and to see how the sector as a whole is able to chip away at the bigger picture.
The not-for-profit sector is large, diverse and full of lots of wonderful and approachable people. Even if you don’t feel like meeting them in person, social media can be a great way to learn, and to share your experiences and opinions.
Of course, everyone’s work situation is unique and some of these tips may not be applicable or practical for you. However the overarching message is this: if you find yourself lacking in motivation, make a change.
However small it might be, you never know what kind of difference it might make.
This post is based on an article that originally appeared on Idealist.org
Do you have a tip to keep people in ethical work motivated? Please share it in the comments below!