Building a Career in Social Impact — Your How-To Guide

4 min read
Building a Career in Social Impact — Your How-To Guide

If you’re motivated to contribute to the greater good, and want to make that passion a part of your day-to-day life, there are many social impact careers to consider. There’s more good news: You probably already have transferable skills that are incredibly valuable to any community impact job.

Keep reading to explore the possibilities, what to expect during the pursuit of a meaningful new role and educational opportunities to set yourself up for success.

What Are Social Impact Careers?

Social impact careers exist in many different industries, requiring a combination of general skills, passion and commitment, paired with sector-specific knowledge.

These mission-driven roles help mobilize efforts to make an impact on communities, whether it be in education, health care, sustainability and so on. There are no limits to where social impact work can take workers — your career can expose you to many different cultures, contexts and challenges.

Community Impact Jobs

There are a wide range of job titles that involve community impact. A few popular jobs for social change, in both the public and private sectors, include:

  • Victim advocate: Responsible for providing victims of various crimes with emotional support, resources and accompaniment through any court proceedings. The role requires at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminology or sociology.
  • Social worker: Individuals, couples and groups rely on social workers to manage difficult situations, often involving health concerns, trauma and transitions. A social worker will evaluate specific needs and see to it that proper treatment is implemented and followed through. Work settings vary from healthcare facilities, nonprofits and government agencies. A bachelor’s degree in social work is the minimum educational requirement, with many employers seeking candidates with advanced degrees and sometimes requiring a license to practice.
  • Campaign manager: Public officials at the state and federal level often have campaign managers who oversee their runs for office. This leader is responsible for strategic advertisements, community outreach and organization of volunteers. At minimum, a bachelor’s degree in political science, communications, public relations or a similar area of study is required. Multiple years of campaign experience are also highly valued. 
  • Sustainability consultant: Working with clients of varying sizes, from local businesses to large corporations, sustainability consultants provide guidance on improving environmental impact. This often involves examining a company’s existing practices and finding areas in which waste can be reduced, energy saved and policies implemented for better general practices. A sustainability consultant often conveys these efforts publicly in an effort to improve a company’s reputation. A master’s degree in business, environmental science, architecture or sustainability is generally required for this position.
  • Director of philanthropy: Leading fundraising efforts and building relationships with future donors is how a director of philanthropy spends most of their time. The main incentive is to set, implement and achieve goals on behalf of an organization. That can mean a college or university, a nonprofit organization, an arts and cultural organization and more. Experience, in addition to at least a bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management, public administration or business, is highly useful for job seekers of this role.

Job requirements are dependent on many factors, such as location and title. But in most cases, an advanced degree combined with first-hand experience will help candidates stand out from a crowd of applicants.

How to Pursue a Social Impact Career

There is no singular way to pursue a career in social impact. Consider these three means of achieving a career that you’re passionate about, while utilizing skills that you’ve already mastered.

  • Draw upon what you know: Professional experience in many fields can be transferred to an adjacent career in social impact. Healthcare professionals, for example, might be interested in pivoting to healthcare advocacy, medical social work, global health coordination and other similar positions.
  • Gain experience in something new: Take advantage of volunteer opportunities. Let’s say you aspire to work in political advocacy. Begin by working the polls during an election or volunteering in a local campaign effort. Putting yourself out there not only exposes you to opportunities but provides networking potential with others who can help guide you along the way.
  • Earn a degree: Going back to school to advance your knowledge and skill set doesn’t have to be all consuming. The University of San Diego offers 100% online master’s degree programs, including an M.S. in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Designed for working professionals, coursework is updated in real-time with developments in the nonprofit sector and aims to hone skills in executive leadership, advanced management and other top-earning positions.

Helpful Skills for Social Impact Careers

While there are a wide range of impact jobs that require unique skills or experience, there are some helpful hard and soft skills important for general success.




Cultural competence


Time management


Industry-specific knowledge (i.e. healthcare, environmental science, education)

Project management

Impact assessment

Personal attributes, or soft skills, that are incredibly useful in social impact work include a sense of empathy for those you work with. Especially when it comes to underserved populations, it’s important to have sensitivity for everyone’s unique circumstances. Self-awareness also comes into play here.

Being able to manage projects, research and be an expert in your field are among the most useful hard skills you can possess.

Education Requirements 

USD’s MSNP program is a worthwhile opportunity to hone these essential skills. True to the diverse nature of social impact careers, this master’s degree accommodates anyone with the following backgrounds or undergraduate degrees, to name just a few:

  • Nonprofit Management
  • Business Administration, Sales and Marketing
  • Sociology
  • Public Administration
  • International Relations
  • Communications
  • Political Science 
  • Public Health
  • Fundraising 
  • Philanthropy
  • Community Organizing

Most importantly, the program is designed for those committed to a career with social purpose. Courses allow students to explore and learn:

  • Nonprofit program development
  • Leadership and management theories in real-world situations
  • Fundamentals of nonprofit finance
  • And much more

Ready to explore which master’s degree program is right for you? Check out our free eBook, “Choosing an Online Master’s Degree.”