Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So, You Want to Do Good?

No, that’s not a grammatical error in the title of this post. This is about breaking into a field that allows you to do good things on behalf of others, the field of corporate social responsibility, or CSR. 

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a discussion thread in the LinkedIn group “Corporate Community, Sustainability and Philanthropy” started by 25-year-old Erik Moss, who works for Catholic Charities in Dallas,Texas. Erik wrote, “I'm a nonprofit professional looking to get into the CSR field. Any tips on making that leap? Do most people start out in PR and then move over to CSR?It was a good question that elicited several responses, including a couple from me and, with Erik’s permission, I’m sharing my mine with you.

I told Erik I entered the CSR field as a paid professional after more than 30 years in journalism and public relations. What helped me was a long-term involvement with community and nonprofit organizations. My career also included high-profile PR positions, which led to me being asked to join some foundation boards.

All of these experiences developed a profile that led a pharmaceutical company, through a connection there, to reach out to me to start their corporate giving and global philanthropy program. That's the other important aspect of this, or any job search – networking and maintaining contacts.

To learn more about this field, visit Web sites like The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations to learn about CSR, foundation work, and philanthropy. LinkedIn also provides job openings in the CSR field on a weekly basis to members of appropriate groups, including the one mentioned above.

I also recommend being involved as a volunteer or board member of a nonprofit organization. That will help you understand how they operate. That will assist you when, one day, you are in a CSR position as a donor, cause marketer, or provider of engaged employees to volunteer. Such participation in the nonprofit sector will also help connect you to like-minded individuals who will learn of your interest in this field and see what you have accomplished as a volunteer or board member.

Erik raised a question about his age, with a concern that he would be too young to be considered for nonprofit board positions. I told him at 25, he is a prime candidate to serve as a volunteer board member. From what I have come to learn about him, he has energy, insight into his age group (and others, judging by his current work with parents and children), and he can help breathe new life into an organization.

Daniel Torres, a student friend of mine who recently graduated from Marist College, where I still teach, was elected to his school board at 18 and he is running for the New Paltz Town Board this year at age 23. At 21, I was the chair of our city's transportation commission. Local chambers of commerce have young leaders groups that help develop skills and connect them to their communities.

A good writer is worth his or her weight in gold to a nonprofit organization. With extensive layoffs in newsrooms and a diminishing number of traditional news outlets, prospective newsmakers are fighting for a shrinking number of coverage opportunities. You can help an agency develop a blog, a Facebook presence, or a Twitter account if they don't already have those. You can help them with an online newsletter or enhance their Web site. You can lead them to understand how to pitch stories that will get picked up by media, or perhaps even bypass traditional channels by using your social media skills. I told Erik not to let his age or anyone’s perception of him being “too young” impede him from making a mark on the community in which he lives and works.

My advice: pick a cause about which you are passionate and find an agency that has that as part of its mission. Is there a disease that has impacted your family? What about literacy? Is there a set of social issues about which you have strong feelings? I provided links to groups with which I've been involved, but there are thousands more looking for volunteers.

Erik brings another major skill to the table. He’s bilingual. How many companies, agencies, foundations, or other groups lack the ability to offer services or assistance or information in Spanish as well as English? I have two students in my Marist class this semester who are fully bilingual. My advice to any young person – or anyone for that matter – play to your strengths. We all have much to offer.

Career development takes time and while we can plan for our future, there are twists and turns along life’s path that catch us by surprise. Three years ago, I had no idea I would be in the job I am today, nor did I plan my career to develop as it did. Opportunities arise and you have to be ready to accept and take advantage of them -- and I mean "take advantage" in a positive sense. I also believe in karma -- you do good for others and that good is returned to you. That should not be your expectation. One should do something that is good just because it is good. However, if that good is returned to you through an opportunity, accept it with gratitude and grow with that new experience.

One last thing…After less than two months as a program coordinator at Catholic Charities, Erik was promoted to program supervisor, overseeing a staff of eight. That’s a sign of both who he is and what he can do. Those two aspects of one’s professional and personal life are complementary, so I have no doubt that whenever he decides to make the job into corporate social responsibility of philanthropy, he will land on his own two feet.