24 Ways to Impact Education

LinkedIn just announced that 4 million of their members signaled that they want to find opportunities to serve on boards and provide pro bono work. Among these purpose-driven professionals, the vast majority reported that education was the field they most wanted to impact.

The good news for those wanting to make an impact is that there are nearly 200,000 nonprofits working in education alone. However, having so many different organizations to choose from can be incredibly overwhelming.

"Too many options, how do I possibly choose? Does it even matter what organization I help as long as I am making an impact?"

I have taught in a high school, college and even a prison. More recently, as the founder of the Taproot Foundation I had the honor of working with tens of thousands of professionals engaged in pro bono work around the world. What I learned through these experiences is that any job or volunteer work can be rewarding, but it is far more meaningful if it is deeply aligned with your approach to driving progress and impacting change.

So, how do you find the right opportunity to work, volunteer, lobby, donate or invest?

First, it is important to recognize that there exists incredible variety among the approaches and missions of organizations working in education. While all of these organizations share a common goal--to improve education--their approaches differ pretty radically. There are sites like GuideStar that make it easy to search find nonprofits working in the field.

Second, you also need to be able to define what impact you want to make. Just like organizations, individuals differ in how we approach our work, in order to derive the most purpose and have the greatest impact. So, while "making an impact" might be your underlying goal, some opportunities are going to be more meaningful than others based on how your own worldview and approach align, or don't, with that of the organization you serve.

"So, how do I go about finding the right fit?"

Individuals and organizations alike work to maximize their impact based on a variety of factors. Those factors are: who is being impacted, why change is needed, and how to best go about about impacting that change.

The unique combination of these who, how and why factors, or purpose drivers, make up your Purpose Pattern. There are 24 Purpose Patterns---each a unique combination of the individual driver. Aligning your own Purpose Pattern with that of an organization offers the greatest potential for both maximizing your impact and having the most meaningful experience.

Discovering the Purpose Pattern of an organization is easy enough. Most post their mission statements front and center on their websites, clearly defining their approach, values, and targets of impact. What is less clear, however, is truly understanding what drives purpose for you personally--your own personal mission statement.

Here is a quick quiz to help you begin to define your own Purpose Pattern:

1) Who needs to be the primary focus of efforts to effectively improve education?

a) Students & Parents

b) Schools & School Districts

c) Policy Makers & Media

d) Unions

If you answered (a) you likely see individuals as the key to change in education. If you selected (b) or (d) you see organizations as driving change. Finally, if you chose (c) you are a macro change agent and believe true change has to be systemic - at a societal level.

2) Which of the following statements best aligns with your point of view?

a) We need to ensure that our education system is world-class so our best students can rise to the top and compete on the global stage.

b) Our biggest gains in education will come when we ensure that every child, regardless of background or circumstance, has access to quality education.

This question addresses WHY you want to work on education. Selecting option (a) indicates that you see the world as in balance, allowing us to focus on achievement and advancement. Selecting option (b) indicates that you see the world as out of balance, requiring us to intervene to protect and support people and the planet.

3) Which of the following statements best aligns with your point of view?

a) The best schools have deep parent and community involvement. If all schools had deep ownership from parents and the community they would rise to a sustained level of excellence.

b) We can't improve individual schools without changing the systems and policies that govern them. We need to take best practices on everything from curriculum to funding and spread them to make all schools excellent.

c) We designed schools based on the manufacturing model. We now know that kids need fresh healthy food, natural light, reasonable starting hours and the ability to move their bodies during the day. We need to redesign schools for human beings and not robots if we are ever going to succeed.

d) We don't even know what effective or quality education means anymore. We are still using standards and goals from 100 years ago. We need to first define success for today's children and then design education around that new goal.

All four of these perspectives are all valid but one them probably dominates your point of view about HOW education needs to be addressed. Is it through engagement and ownership (a), building tools and systems (b), being human-centered (c) or uncovering missing knowledge (d)?

Your Purpose Pattern is identified through your answers to these three types of questions.

"Great! I have my Purpose Pattern. What's next?"

Understanding your Purpose Pattern is the first step towards discovering a meaningful volunteer or work opportunity. Here are some great next steps!

1) Learn more about your Purpose Pattern

The way people answer the above questions prove to be remarkably consistent across a wide variety of fields and problems. There are 24 Purpose Patterns, meaning there are 24 unique ways in which individuals and organizations consistently approach their work, and view the best potential for impact. Of the 24, which one are you? To verify your Purpose Pattern and gain insights into how to apply it to your work and community leadership, visit imperative.com. Our purpose assessment is free and takes less than 10 minutes.

2) Screen opportunities for working and volunteering with purpose!

Here is a list of 16 education-serving nonprofits that are considered high impact. See if you can decode their WHO, HOW & WHY for addressing the challenges faced in education. Based on what you now know about your own purpose drivers, which organization seems like the best fit for you?

3) Share your experience

Unlocking your purpose and helping improve the world we live in is exciting! Challenge your friends and colleagues to discover their Purpose Patterns, and help inspire them to find the right organization to volunteer their time and professional skills.

Share your experience with @Imperative, and help us create a world richer in purpose.

Click here to take Imperative's free 10 minute Purpose Assessment.


Aaron Hurst is CEO of Imperative, a technology platform helping organizations build cultures alive with purpose. He is also the founder of the Taproot Foundation and author of The Purpose Economy. Follow him on twitter: @Aaron_Hurst.