Which jobs will best prepare you to become a charity entrepreneur?
The first thing to consider is whether you need a job to prepare yourself for charity entrepreneurship (CE). A number of people have been surprised at the impact they can have relatively early in their career. In fact, we generally think that having the right goals and personality is far more important for CE than specific background experience or degrees.
Often, the number of diverse new skills you will have to learn will make any single background only slightly important relative to your ability to quickly absorb new things and develop meta-habits, such as task management. When individuals apply to our incubation camp, we will try to inform those who could have been accepted if they had had more experience. And we aim to teach the individuals who get into our program the skills they would otherwise learn through many years of work experience. We will do it in a condensed and focused manner, so that more ground can be covered in a few months than in many years of more passive learning on the job. Another option that we recommend is getting a short-term job or internship, should you want to gain skills during the year before applying for the CE incubation program. Taking on an internship between February and April can teach many skills and pass on many of the habits of an organization, yet still allow for a relatively quick founding of a charity after a minimal period of skill-building.
For the people who are positive that CE is not a fit for them now, but think it might be in the future (e.g. in 2020 or later), the kind of work experience we most recommend is the following:
In a more diverse role
In the rough cause area you are interested in.
Small nonprofits will give you a better feel of working in CE directly (as your charity will start out very small), both work-wise and culturally. It will build a wide range of experiences, as you will often be required to wear a lot of different hats (a key skill for CE). Many small charities will end up giving you more responsibility within a shorter time frame. They also tend not to have the more established seniority-based systems that larger nonprofits often do, but which make it hard to for an individual to grow. Culturally, they tend to be less rigid and have less established systems, leading to less professionality and more job ambiguity. Overall, working in smaller nonprofits will stand much closer to simulating the first few years of founding a charity than working in the larger ones.
Impact-focused charities will teach many of the skills that are hardest to learn through other work and volunteering experiences. Few charities are as single-mindedly focused on impact as the most cost-effective ones. An organization’s focus will not only affect the skills you will learn (e.g. how to get website traffic versus measuring and evaluating your impact critically) but also the deeper attitudes you will end up building (e.g. it is easy to found a charity based around measuring the wrong metric).
Well-run charities will teach you habits that will benefit your startup in the future, since you will often end up inadvertently replicating both the good and bad parts of the organizations you have worked for. This is part of the reason that work experience is less important than people think, since the habits you might pick up at a poorly run or non-impact focused organization can lead your charity down worse paths than coming in with a fresher slate for an incubation or founding setting. Well-run charities will allow you to pick up more cross-applicable meta habits, such as management, organizational structure, and task management.
Just as when working for a small charity, getting a more diverse role will teach a wider range of skills than getting a very specialized role. Managing a diverse team can also confer many of the same benefits. One exception to this is internships, even specific ones, that can teach a lot of specific skills in a short time span.
Generally, we emphasise that size and focus are more important than the specific cause, but it is a bonus if the charity is also working within the broader cause area (e.g. animal issues, global health) in which you would like to found a charity in the future.
Some organizations that we think meet many of the above criteria include (those with active job or internship openings are linked below):
GiveWell-recommended or incubated charities
The Against Malaria Foundation
Schistosomiasis Control Initiative
Overall, we caution people against putting off their plans of founding a charity in order to build experience, but instead suggest they try to build experience in more rapid ways, such as through internships, incubation programs, and by talking to founders directly. That is, unless they have tried to found a charity and run into a block based specifically on needing more experience. Many other factors, such as value drift, changing life circumstances, and the possibility of reduced funding and mentorship support in the future make now a particularly good time to start a charity -- even with imperfect experience.