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Eight High-Paying Jobs Where You Can Make a Difference

Eight High-Paying Jobs Where You Can Make a Difference

By Bridget Quigg, PayScale.com

Can you imagine waking up each working day knowing that you’re about to do some good in the world? Firefighters, social workers  and teachers may have this experience, but those professions are not known for their high wages. So which jobs offer that magical combination of a high sense of meaning and a high salary?

Truth be told, they’re tough to find, according to Katie Bardaro, lead analyst at online salary database PayScale.com. “Generally, the jobs with the highest meaning offer low pay,” she says. “People who want to make the world a better place are not driven by money. They’re driven by a desire to help people.”

When PayScale asked workers whether their jobs make the world a better place, 80 percent or more of those with jobs on the following list responded “yes” or “very much so.” Each job pays more than $52,000 per year and requires no more than a master's degree. Not surprisingly, many of the jobs are in the healthcare and nonprofit sectors.

Note: If you want the highest-paying, most meaningful job around -- neurosurgeon -- you’ll need a medical degree and extensive training, Bardaro says. Ninety-four percent of neurosurgeons say they derive a high sense of meaning through their work. Median annual pay is $358,000.

1. Nonprofit Executive Director
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 94 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $55,200

It’s no surprise that leading a team with a mission to improve the world can make your work feel meaningful. The challenges are significant, such as keeping the organization alive with only donations and grants, but the rewards are also great. Both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA are common for these executives.

Find nonprofit executive director jobs.

2. Registered Occupational Therapist
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 92 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $69,800

Occupational therapists help people with physical limitations figure out ways to work and care for themselves. Whether it’s teaching patients who’ve suffered head injuries how to type again or tighten the lid on a jar, occupational therapists provide practical guidance and encouragement. A master’s degree and passing a licensing exam are required.

Find occupational therapist jobs.

3. Director of Development
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 90 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $59,000

Charisma, leadership and a knack for persuasion are all required for this demanding role. Responsible for bringing in the funds needed to keep a nonprofit growing, this person must have management experience and analytical capabilities. A bachelor’s degree is typically required, and further education in an area specific to the organization’s mission can help.

Find development director jobs.

4. Foundation Program Officer
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 87 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $58,800

Here’s a job for people who are experts in a certain area and have good decision-making skills. They review proposals on behalf of a foundation and decide who gets the foundation’s money to fund a project, such as medical research or creating an arts program. A bachelor’s degree is the basic educational requirement.

Find program office jobs.

5. Clinical Laboratory Scientist
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 86 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $76,100

Clinical laboratory scientists determine whether abnormal cells are cancerous. They figure out the type of bacteria causing an infection. The job requires at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as licensing and training to stay current with the latest medical advancements. Pursuing a specialty may require graduate work.

Find clinical laboratory jobs.

6. Grants Manager
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 86 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $52,800

To keep providing the programs they do, social-services organizations, nonprofits and schools often apply for grants. Grants managers determine, among all the grants available, which ones best suit the organization’s mission. They then lead the development of grant proposals and follow up to ensure that the organization is complying with the grant requirements. This job requires at least a bachelor’s degree.

Find grants manager jobs.

7. Registered Nurse
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 82 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $57,500

Being with people during their times of physical suffering and recovery makes for very meaningful work. Registered nurses administer medicines, educate patients about their treatment plans, and provide emotional support to patients and their families. Registered nurses can start with an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program. State licensure is also required.

Find registered nurse jobs.

8. Intelligence Analyst
Percent Reporting High Levels of Meaning at Work: 80 Percent
Median Annual Pay: $72,800

Holding one of the more surprising jobs on this list, intelligence analysts feel certain that they help the world. How? “They often work for the federal government or military, and they make the world a better place by making it safer,” Bardaro says. So, while they may not feed the homeless or save endangered species, they protect average citizens from harm. A bachelor’s degree is required for this job. Foreign-language skills are often a plus.

Find intelligence analyst jobs.

Source: All salary data provided by online salary database PayScale.com. Salaries listed are median, annual salaries for full-time employees with five to eight years of experience. Earnings include bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions and other forms of cash earnings, as applicable. They do not include equity (stock) compensation, cash value of retirement benefits or the value of other noncash benefits (e.g., health insurance).

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