10 Careers for Making a Difference
It’s important to find meaning in your work. If you work in public policy, you will be reminded of that importance on a daily basis. Air quality, gas prices, tax forms…most of the fundamental aspects of our lives are influenced or determined by policy. As we engage with our environment, our communities, our government, and a never-ending list of mundane activities, we see clearly how impactful good policymaking can be.
The problem then becomes finding work where you feel like you’re actually making a difference. The importance of public policy is clear, but if you don’t feel like your work is really affecting that policy, that importance might not carry over. It’s best to look for careers that make a difference in policy, so you can work knowing you are making a difference in people’s lives.
To help, here are 10 careers that make a difference that a master’s degree in Public Policy, Community Development, or Public Administration can prepare you for.
Everyone lives in and influences the environment; it is the subject of policy we interact with most often. For larger organizations, that influence can be significant. Even if they’re not an oil refinery, organizations need to have a sustainable impact on the environment for their own sake and the sake the public good. Many organizations must accommodate for car traffic, heating and air conditioning, waste disposal, and more, so they hire sustainability managers.
A sustainability manager makes sure that companies, campuses, city governments, and all other manner of organizations are responsible for their environmental impact. They need to have a deep understanding of how to determine the environmental impact of a policy and how to maintain compliance with current environmental laws. Their efforts benefit the organization by protecting them from lawsuits and keeping their campuses clean, and they benefit the public by reducing harmful environmental impact on a large scale.
Government Relations Coordinator---
Public policy is heavily controlled by governments. At the end of the day, whether it’s a city council or Congress, those governing bodies are going to determine which policies become law, and how those laws are enforced. That means that any non-government organization that wants to have an impact on public policy needs a government relations coordinator.
Government relations coordinators can work in all kinds of different focuses depending on the organization that hires them, so the meaningfulness of their work can be tied to the work of that organization. However, the expertise of the position is not to be taken lightly. Maintaining a relationship with elected officials and their staff is critical for impacting the policies those offices are shaping.
City or County Manager---
Some cities and counties don’t elect a mayor. Instead, they hire a city or county manger via an elected council. The city manager holds similar executive power to a mayor, meaning their decisions will have a considerable impact on the residents of that city and on the relations with businesses, neighboring cities, and suburbs.
A city manager must be equipped to enact the public policy decisions of the council with consideration for all the stakeholders and moving parts relevant to that policy. They typically have a large staff to help them with that mission, but the importance of a deep understanding of policy is undeniable. With the whole city relying on their abilities, a city manager’s work is certainly impactful.
In June 2020, the Carsey School was joined by town and city administrators from across New Hampshire to discuss how COVID-19 impacted their operations and how they responded to the pandemic.
Development and Fundraising Officer---
Of course, everything relies on access to funding. Any NGO that wants to impact public policy is going to need funding for their efforts, which is especially an issue for nonprofit organizations without a steady income. These organizations must hire someone to fundraise if they want to continue to function.
A development and fundraising officer leads the effort to fund the work of an organization, often a nonprofit seeking grants or gifts. They are responsible for ensuring that the organization’s current efforts continue, as well as enabling new projects by implementing a development plan. Again, it is a position where the meaningfulness is directly tied to the rest of the work of the organization. Development and fundraising supports the organization’s efforts to continue meaningful policy work, making it equally as important.
It’s one thing to design a good policy; it’s another to put that policy into action. Executive agencies need staff to oversee the implementation of public policies to ensure they actually happen. Those staff require an in-depth understanding of the policy they are implementing, but they also need to know a large amount of context to make critical decisions throughout the process. Even a simple decision to build a bridge requires management of funds, overseeing contractors, implementing safety tests and standards, and more.
Government administrators exist at all levels of government to see that policies are enacted promptly and as intended. Their work can range across various departments or specializations, but always has the same goal: get a bird’s eye view of a project and see that it is finished without miscommunication or unnecessary complications.
In 2020, Michael Swack spoke with Denise Viera, who then served as a senior advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Public Affairs Coordinator---
An organization involved in public policy also needs to be involved with the public. To do that, they staff public affairs coordinators who coordinate engagement on social media, build relationships with journalists, and strategize other ways to attract public support or attention.
Government and non-government organizations alike need to stay engaged with the public, but for many nonprofits and advocates, publicity is particularly important. Policy advocates rely on engaging with the public to attract supporters to their cause and pressure elected officials to enact good policy. Nonprofits engage with the public to crowdfund their work and educate about an issue, but also to learn from communities to understand the issues that need attention. Public affairs coordinators are crucial communicators that bridge the gap between policy and those impacted by it.
Community Engagement Coordinator---
Just as a public affairs coordinator reaches out to the general public, a community engagement coordinator focuses on a specific community – typically those most affected by the policy of concern to the organization. Their job is equally as important, but is more focused and often involves developing a direct relationship with a given community of interest. They develop an in-depth understanding of that community and use it to guide policymaking.
For example, a nonprofit looking to build and maintain homeless shelters needs to do two things: First, they must speak with the people they are trying to help to learn what is actually helpful. What makes a shelter safe? What kind of resources are needed? Second, they need to get the word out about their service to those who need it, to ensure that people know to come get assistance. These tasks both fall under the domain of community engagement.
Carsey School Master in Community Development student works in community engagement and outreach as executive director of the Boston-based Union of Minority Neighborhoods. In 2021, he received a Platinum Sustainability Award from the University of New Hampshire.
International Development Coordinator---
An in-depth understanding of policy is especially important in working across countries. Any company looking to do business outside the United States needs to ensure they are compliant with US and non-US regulations – regulations that can sometimes be at odds with each other. The same applies for non-profits looking to offer foreign aid and to the U.S. government itself.
An international development coordinator is responsible for keeping track of policy across nations. Whether they are trying to comply with or influence those policies, they must have the research skills to work through complex legal interactions. Without someone to overcome differences in law, culture, and language, organizations would struggle to accomplish anything internationally.
It is important to be able to consider many possible courses of action and predict their outcome. With public policy having such an impact from small communities all the way to international relations – often simultaneously – analysis is necessary before any policy can be implemented. Governments need to predict the consequences of their actions. At the same time, stakeholders of policy need to consider how to respond to it.
A policy analyst examines the impact of current policy and potential changes. They assemble lists of options for addressing a given issue, with elaboration on the possible consequences of those options and comparison to the status quo. Which policies will have a positive sustainable impact on the communities, economies, or environment they affect, and which ones might be damaging or unreliable? A policy analyst’s work is necessary for good policy because they are the ones figuring out what “good policy” is in the context of the issue.
A graduate of the Master in Public Policy program, Libby Schwaner now serves as a policy analyst at the Carsey School of Public Policy
Social Impact Analyst---
Social impact analysts examine how an organization’s full policy agenda impacts the rest of the world. Just as any large organization will inevitably have an impact on its environment, so too will it have an impact on its society. Any large organization needs to be concerned over how its presence impacts its workers, their families, and the surrounding communities because that impact can often be significant.
The importance of social impact is obvious for nonprofits looking to achieve specific societal goals, such as human rights equity or poverty reduction. However, even a for-profit corporation must be careful about its impact or risk potentially doing harm. The importance of protecting individuals and communities is self-explanatory, and even the most selfish of corporations should still worry about their public image.
Making an Impact
All of the jobs above help people by having a significant impact on how public policy takes form. Through each step of conception, funding, implementation, and analysis, there are professionals whose work will determine the public response to the most significant issues of our time. Those professionals need the big-picture understanding behind policymaking. That’s what the Carsey School of Public Policy has to offer.
The Carsey School offers master’s degrees in public policy, public administration, and community development that teach students the tools to pursue one of the many careers essential to good policymaking. You’ll learn from seasoned policymakers, getting hands-on experience while developing your network of public service professionals. Your degrees will be tailor-made to your interests, offering you the know-how to spearhead real, positive change for your community and country.
Ever wonder what exactly makes a great leader? In 2019, we were joined by three UNH alum to discuss meaningful careers in public policy, political strategy and social enterprise. This event was hosted by UNH Alumni.
Carsey's Degree Programs
Our Masters in Public Policy (MPP) offers you the tools you need to make a difference and create change in the challenging environment of 21st-century policymaking. You will have the chance to meet in-person with key policymakers in Congress, the White House, government agencies, advocacy groups and more throughout your semesters on campus and during our Washington, D.C., colloquium. In addition to equipping you to serve in public policy jobs that matter, our MPP program will provide you with the skills to address the pressing issues that matter to you — locally, nationally and globally. Learn more
Our online Public Administration master’s degree (MPA) will provide you with a practical skill set and the theoretical foundation needed to be a successful, publicly minded professional. The encompassing MPA curriculum includes courses that bring together concepts from public policy, management, politics and law, providing you with a well-rounded understanding of what it means to run an organization in the public and nonprofit sectors. You’ll engage in hands-on opportunities during which you’ll apply knowledge and skills developed in the program to real issues within your community. Public administration is where we see public policy affecting citizens on a personal level, and where public officials fulfill the promise of democracy. Learn more
Geared toward working professionals, our online Masters in Community Development (MCD) will equip you for a myriad of careers and jobs while preparing you through real-world training and connecting you to community-based partners and practitioners. You’ll learn the basis of community engagement and establish a foundation in sustainable and effective community development practices, all while growing your professional network, connecting with respected experts across disciplines and continents. Learn more