Go Forth and Serve

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I work for a public tech company. But I didn’t study HTML or apprentice myself to slick corporate consultants. In fact, I was a business-major-turned-third-grade-teacher, and then spent three illuminating years at an education nonprofit. That was what got me where I am.

How so? It accelerated my learning about how to contribute in organizations. And about myself. The nonprofit sector uniquely compels young people to make strategic decisions, and learn by trying. I started as a fundraiser and then led marketing at a small-but-growing nonprofit. I was 24 and had no clue what I was doing. But I got to – I had to – figure it out.

Experience is the best teacher.

As I did so, I was forced to think creatively. We couldn’t just throw money at stuff. Instead of big ad buys, we got the media to tell the stories of our low-income students. Innovating because you have to is great preparation for any future job. Ever seen a list of the ‘Top Companies Maintaining the Status Quo?’ 

I also benefited from great managers. These professional sherpas are precious, and I’ve found that they’re more indigenous to nonprofits.


Nonprofits have little appetite (or budget!) for entry-level do-nothings. I approached my work with passion because I was deeply mission-connected. And so my contributions always felt material – even if they really weren’t.

These jobs are what you make of ‘em. And often you can create the job you want.

A fellow new grad began as an administrative assistant but was inspired to rethink board engagement. She ultimately became a senior leader, not just a master scheduler. For both of us, jumping into nonprofit work with two feet led to opportunities in the corporate world. 

I’d be lying if I said I planned it that way. But these early jobs gave me substantive experience with projects and populations that companies valued. 

More importantly, they breathed life into my truest passions, which became my lighthouse for every future pursuit. 

This core of me has changed surprisingly little over time. 

So I say don’t delay on shining a bright light on that core. Nonprofits provide myriad opportunities to do so – as employees, board members, or volunteers.

Now go forth and serve! 

With a Perspective, I’m Omar Garriott.

Omar Garriott is an edtech marketing manager. He lives in San Mateo.