Earlier today before anyone was awake, I scrolled through my social media as I like doing on a quiet Sunday morning. A post caught my eye because I could almost feel the frustration of the person who wrote it.
This individual was someone who cared very much about the nonprofit sector. Although the writer of the post had worked for more than a decade in the for-profit industry, this person decided to transition and went to school (while being the head-of-household for a small family and holding a full-time job) to earn a college degree in nonprofit management.
Flash forward two years.
No job, at least not at a nonprofit.
It seems from the post there were a lot of “almost” and close calls but there was no meaningful work for a talented and driven professional who wanted to break into the sector.
As I reflected on the situation, provided this individual had transferable skills and a strong work ethic, I thought about some of the reasons why this could be happening.
- Limited thinking: If you’ve been in the nonprofit sector as long as I have, then you’re aware there’s a lot of limited thought. I’ve heard countless executives refuse to give anyone a chance–especially if they did not adhere to the job requirements. Meaning, if someone did not have direct experience, they were not getting the job. That cuts out a host of people with transferable skills.
For me, when I see this happening, I don’t know about you, but it’s a lack of imagination. Don’t you think? In today’s world, success is going to those organizations and individuals who are creative and innovative.
If someone who had the passion, skills, and drive walked into my office if I were still the CEO of a nonprofit and asked me for a job, but they didn’t have the so-called direct experience, do you want to know what I would do? I would figure out a way to get them into my organization. To me, there’s nothing better than someone who is motivated to work and figure it out. That is a more significant value to me than all of the people who have the experience–on paper, but once you get them into the job, they have a 9 to 5 mentality.
- Making a difference doesn’t count: Since this individual had had a successful career in the business world, I can only assume that this person was not willing to settle for a low salary, and some of the comments from the people in the sector reflected the same thinking.
I saw comments from people who were saying that nonprofit leaders want to pay their employees “very little or nothing.” And the candidates that they preferred to hire are those who wanted to “make a difference” but were too shy or not confident enough to try to negotiate a competitive salary.
I’ve said it for a very long time; the nonprofit sector has to do a better job of paying their team members a competitive salary. I think it speaks volumes against the industry to claim the higher ground in making it a better world through their mission to then turn around and with their teams see how they can get around not paying a good salary.
- Sometimes even experience doesn’t count: I scrolled through the comments, and I saw several from individuals in the nonprofit sector who had left the industry. They had chosen instead to volunteer or serve as board members but determined that the lack of seriousness of nonprofit leaders was not worth it for them.
I found those remarks troubling. It’s probably one of the reasons more and more people don’t trust charitable organizations. They see a lot of talking with little getting done. Don’t you think that in a sector that has about 10 percent of the U.S. world population that people in the field don’t communicate to others what a mess it can sometimes be in the sector?
To me, one of the biggest things I saw was that many nonprofit leaders had a ready excuse for everything. There’s always a quick excuse as to why they can’t pay a competitive salary, or can’t grow to scale, or why they can’t hire talented idealists who want to make a difference or retain those they have who end up quitting the industry in frustration.
The reality is that the nonprofit sector is no longer the only game in town. What I would say to the person who wrote the original post that I read on social media, or anyone who is interested in social good, is to look at other ways. I would ask them to look at for-profit social enterprises or companies aligned to social good. Candidly, no one who wants to make a difference and improve the world has to look at a job in the nonprofit sector. The days of it being the only game in town are over. There are a lot more opportunities if you’re creative, that doesn’t involve working for charity.