Nonprofit and Afraid: Like Naked and Afraid, but better

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tax-468440_960_720Naked and Afraid is a riveting show about two random strangers who have to survive in the wilderness for three weeks while naked (and afraid). They meet for the first time in their birthday suits, they are given usually a knife and a fire starter, and the two must find water and food, build shelter out of bamboo and leaves or whatever, and put up with insects, freezing cold nights, blisteringly hot days, thorns, poisonous snakes, and worst of all, lack of wifi. They are followed around by a film crew who intervenes in severe emergencies, but who otherwise are not allowed to talk to the naked couple.

They also get waterproof camcorders to record their personal thoughts, which often sound like this: “Day 9: We are so cold right now, and we haven’t eaten anything since that bat we shared six days ago. Kyle was delirious with a fever and started gnawing at his own arm, but luckily a poisonous spider bit him in the eye and he came to his senses…”

Damn you, Discovery Channel, for putting on new episodes at 10pm on Sunday nights. 10pm to 2am on Sunday is usually when I do my writing. This show is to blame for any decrease in quality of these blog posts.

But this gives me a brilliant idea for a show that I want to pitch to the Discovery Channel: “Nonprofit and Afraid.” Hear me out for a second. Picture this: We take an average person who is not from the nonprofit sector, and we place them to work at a nonprofit for six weeks, filming their experience every step of the way! Here’s what the pilot episode might look like:

Nonprofit and Afraid, pilot episode

Narrator: Meet Adam, a 38-year-old electrical engineer from LA with 12 years of experience at his current job. Adam has a wife and three young kids. He wants to prove that he has what it takes to survive six weeks in nonprofit. He is given a camera to record his experience.

Adam, on POV cam: I think I will miss my family, but I’m also used to not seeing them in my regular job. I think I’ll do fine here. How hard can it be? Now, where is the nonprofit expense account credit card? How am I going to pay for parking?

Narrator: A team of experts has evaluated Adam’s physical, mental, and emotional strengths and has given him a NSR (Nonprofit Survival Rating) of 6.2 out of 10. Should he endure all six weeks, his NSR will be reevaluated. Does he have what it takes to survive “Nonprofit and Afraid”?

Adam: We are allowed to select one approved nonprofit survival item to take with us on this challenge. Apparently, the nonprofit expense account card was not on the list—in fact, no one has heard of it—so I decided to take this 1990 Honda Accord to take me to and from work. It was that, or a bottle of tequila.

Narrator: Day 1, Adam goes to meet his teammates during his first staff meeting, where the team is discussing redesigning the website to generate more activities and donations. The staff do not seem to appreciate Adam’s suggestions.

Adam: You guys, why don’t we just hire a web design firm and pay them to take care of this stuff? I mean, at my last job, it only cost us $25,000 to get a pretty decent site up…

Adam: It’s only the end of day one, and I feel so exhausted. This chair that I have to sit on, I’m told, was gotten on Craigslist on the free stuff section, and a spring is poking out. The staff are friendly, but everyone is freaked out about this thing that they call an “annual event.” I don’t understand. If they hate it, why don’t they just stop doing it? I have to attend a development committee meeting tonight. I hope it doesn’t last more than 30 minutes so I can go home to my family.

Narrator: Over the next two weeks, Adam has been getting used to his new work. There are still many bumps on the road:

Adam: It’s been 15 days now. I am so tired of meetings and hummus. My 1990 Honda accord got broken into while I was working late, and I have no money yet to fix it. My coworker Eddie helped me seal the window using Plexiglas and some duct tape. I’m hoping the Christmas bonus will be big enough for me to get a newer car…

Narrator: His work has been affecting his family life, especially with his wife, Frances.

Frances: You’ve been coming home late almost every night this week. And you backed out of dinner with Mike and Amy—again!—to work on another grant, and you say you have a bored staff retreat coming up next Saturday? Why are the staff bored?! I don’t know how long I can take this…

Adam: It’s…it’s not “bored staff.” It’s… “board/staff,” as in the board and staff get together to work on some things…

Frances: I don’t care! That’s your son’s birthday!

Adam Jr.: Daddy, don’t you love us anymore?

Narrator: Day 38, Adam’s skin has been sagging from lack of sunlight and his hair is falling out. Carpal tunnel has been setting in from the endless emails. At night, he is woken by night terrors involving the budget and potentially having to let go of some of the staff. If he does not find some form of self-care, he may not last another week…

Adam: I tried to take a day off, but there is so much to do. Plus, the annual dinner is coming up in three weeks and we barely have 25% registered. The number of clients we help has tripled in the last few months, and funding has not been keeping apace. We have a sizeable reimbursement-based grant, and it takes forever for them to get invoices that we submit processed, so we are having cash flow issues and payroll is delayed. I don’t know how to tell Frances. Ugh…I wish I had taken that bottle of tequila as my one survival item…

Narrator: A well-timed Happy Hour, with 3-dollar well drinks, accompanied by Eddie seems to have reinvigorated Adam’s spirit, but it is short-lived. The major grant proposal, the one that Adam worked on at the expense of having dinner with his friends Mike and Amy, was rejected. It was a renewal grant that paid for Eddie’s position and provided services to over 80 clients each year. Devastated, Adam crawls under his cubicle desk and curls into a ball, muttering unintelligibly. This is an emergency, requiring the show producer to intervene.

Producer: Adam, are you ok?! He’s not responding. Quick, fan him with that copy of the 990…

Adam: I’m fine. I’m fine.

Producer: Are you sure? You can tap out if you’re not up to it.

Adam: I’m fine. I have to get up. The annual dinner is next week. Get me some hummus.

Narrator: Fueled by week-old hummus left over from the board/staff retreat, Adam finds the strength to complete his 45 days in nonprofit work. The annual dinner goes better than anticipated, raising enough funding to keep Eddie on at half-time and keep programs running at half capacity. The team plans another retreat to figure out a plan to restore services. Adam is now back at his old job as an electrical engineer.

Adam: It feels good to be able to say that I completed this challenge. This was the hardest thing I had to do. I mean, I hear about how difficult nonprofit work is and thought it was just a bunch of whiners, but to actually be in the middle of the storm, so to speak, was much more intense than I ever imaged. This experience changed me. I’m coming back to serve on the board.

Narrator: Adam’s NSR is reevaluated. His naiveté about such things as “nonprofit expense accounts” and “Christmas bonuses” and once asking at what rate the nonprofit matched his “401K” savings, these things lowered his score, but as time went on, his resilience and determination as well as cleverness with duct tape and Plexiglas showed that he has what it takes to survive in a nonprofit. His final score went up from 6.2 to 6.7, placing Adam in the Intermediate nonprofit survival level.

Join us next week on Nonprofit and Afraid as Alejandra, a life insurance agent from San Antonio, is placed at a homeless shelter. Here’s a preview:

Alejandra: The computers here are like ten years old. I don’t get it. Why don’t they just buy everyone new computers?

  • Karen Hirsch

    Vu – This is one of my favorite posts – ever. Thanks for writing it.

    • Aw, thank you, Karen. Tell Kyle to read this. I named a character after him.

  • Great screenplay, hope you can sell it for zillions. You should incorporate a scene in the workout room. I recently had a staffer ask about options to exercise at work, and then I saw very high end hula hoops at Asia Plaza here in Cleveland. I spent almost $20 on one of the very best. Rainbow colored! I put it next to the copier so people can hula hoop while copying. Take that Google!

    • Amy, that’s brilliant. But $20 for a hula hoop? What are you, the YMCA? Go to Goodwill next time. Or better, make your own hula hoop out of rolled-up used easel papers.

  • Brilliant post, Vu! You have such an imagination – and yet, it all rings so true…Thanks for making me smile 🙂

    • Thanks, Laura. I slept three hours last night after writing this, but your comment made it all worth it.

  • Amber Johnson

    This was brilliant. I love starting my Monday’s off with a laugh. Thanks 🙂

    • Thank you, Amber. I’m glad I can help make Mondays more bearable.

  • Lorraine Thomas

    Yep. I’d watch that.

    • Right? I’d love to see these corporate types survive in nonprofit.

  • clauren

    Please can I be on board with this, most excellent idea! Oh the fun we would have….

    • Absolutely. You can help with outreach and cultural competency during film production.

  • Lillian Karabaic

    I have bookmarked this to send to my tech field friends when they ask questions like “what do you mean your conference funding is $100 a year?”
    “why don’t you just write a grant for a program that includes development if you can’t get funding for development?”
    “Why don’t you just get 10,000$ corporate sponsors for your annual event like we got for our conference?”

    • Thanks, Lillian. Yes, those are very annoying questions. It would help if we bring in more people for several weeks so they can learn what we actually do.

  • Karyn Curro

    My husband has been telling me for years to pitch a reality show based on our work. In addition to typical non-profit challenges, we have had a large helping of odd experiences, too. One favorite story is the mercury spill in our office a couple weeks before our annual dinner and auction. We had to evacuate and the health department workers, who came in hazmat suits with beeping wands, confiscated everyone’s shoes. We couldn’t remove any of the auction items we had been collecting, among other issues, and they had to throw away boxes and boxes of files and supplies and even some equipment (but luckily no staff). We were “closed” for one day as we set up a makeshift office in the church nursery, with staff using their cell phones for outgoing calls. I spent a couple hours on the fire escape, hot wiring into an old phone line we had used downstairs a few years earlier, so that we would have a live incoming line, too. We survived on three networked computers propped up on several folding tables, but would have to dismantle the whole setup each weekend so the church could still use their nursery on Sundays. This went on for just over a month as we sat elbow to elbow day after day responding to incoming calls for help. We have a few more doozies like this, too, but this one is the most believable. The others are really quite strange…

    • Karyn, that sounds like a nightmare. LOL, others are quite strange. You should collect these stories and write about them. It’ll make all of us feel better.

  • Marcie Fritz-Reichenbacher

    Love it, I would pay, well actually no I wouldn’t pay, but I would certainly DVR it. Maybe one episode could be a board member of the organization spending 6 weeks as the DD or ED, welcome to our world!

    • Marcie, that’s brilliant. Yes, let’s have board members come and become staff for a few weeks. And the staff could go to their work. Like Wifeswap. But less creepy.

  • Deb Dale

    We loved having you in Tucson Vu! Come back anytime… not quite as fun without you, and we are REALLY fun people as you now know.

    • Deb! I miss you already. I didn’t think I would like AZ as much as I did. I think it was because of you. You are hilarious. Come visit Seattle.

  • Dianne M. Thomas

    Hilarious! I know some board members that would be great on this show. Get that treatment done and submitted, Vu!