Alarmists, disruptors, weasels, and 9 other annoying types of people in nonprofit


opossum-309264_960_720Hi everyone, life with a newborn has been going well. The baby has all these cute and amusing facial expressions, and he smells really nice, like general operating funds. In my sleep-deprived state, however, my memory is terrible, and I’ve been having more vivid and terrifying dreams. For instance, the other day I dreamed I was attacked by this aggressive possum who kept biting my pant legs and I kept trying to kick at it in futility. I woke up in cold sweat and remembered it was time to plan our annual gala.

So anyway, there’s no deep analysis in today’s post. Instead, I want to continue my belated birthday tradition of poorly edited ranting about people who get on my nerves. Last year, I ranted about board members who don’t give, people who suck at designing forms, the reply-all people, volunteers who only want to do stuff around the holidays, people who don’t respond to Doodle polls, the chronically late, gossipers, whiners, people who don’t follow through and are sucky team players, automatic naysayers, people who should work for for-profits, and those who don’t wash their damn dishes.

Thanks to the NWB Facebook Community, we can add to the list. Now, 95% of people in our sector are awesome. But we can all certainly improve. Check these out below, and if you’re guilty of any of them, stop it right now:

12 More Types of People who Get on Everyone’s Nerves in Nonprofit

  1. The Opinion Zombie: This is what I’m calling people who keep trying to resurrect an opinion or failed motion, despite the majority having voted against their ideas. Look, we discussed things and then voted, OK? You had your chance to voice your opinion. You lost. Now that the decision is made, we need to move on, all right?! We are using Arial font for our spring mailing campaign letter, and that’s final!
  2. People who don’t update their calendars: A well-functioning team needs an effective and up-to-date calendar system where everyone can see everyone else’s availability. Your calendar is only partially about you. Your coworkers rely on your calendar to schedule group meetings. If you don’t update your calendar, people may schedule a meeting, and then you’re like, “um, that time doesn’t work for me, I just forgot to update my calendar, blah blah blah, I’m a doo-doo head.” You don’t actually say that last part, but you might as well.
  3. People who mysteriously disappear for short periods of time: Says a colleague, these people “say they will be at the meeting, then just fail to show. At all. And do not bother to answer texts, calls, etc. [leaving others] wondering if they are going to show. And do not even apologize later.” It’s like the Rapture happened, and they were taken, but only during meetings where quorum is absolutely needed.
  4. Manipulating weasels who get people to do their jobs: Either through feigned incompetence, or actual incompetence, they weasel their way out of doing work. It’s worse when it’s their own work they weasel out of, leaving others who already have their work to do, to now take on additional responsibilities because it is too much time and energy to sit down with this weasel. Hey weasel, do your job!
  5. People who don’t read stuff in advance and then chime in: From board members who don’t read meeting packets that are lovingly and painstakingly assembled, to staff who didn’t review last year’s strategic plan before the retreat, not being prepared is annoying and sets everyone back. And it’s even worse if they start chiming in: “OK, so I didn’t read the development plan, but I propose we open a social enterprise. I’m thinking we sell notecards with our after-school program kids’ design, but get this, they’re edible!”
  6. People who use anecdotes as evidence in arguments: “How dare you say nonprofit staff need to be paid more. I mean, my cousin works for a nonprofit, and she makes $180,000 and gets a bonus puppy every year, so therefore you are wrong!” Oh yeah? Well, my cousin survived a car crash even though he didn’t wear a seat belt, so therefore seat belts are obviously not needed!* (*NWB does not endorse the non-usage of seat belts. This sentence was made to demonstrate the invalidity of using anecdotes to prove a point. Please wear your seat belts at all time, even when you’re not in a car).
  7. People who do not know how to format documents to conserve paper: Please, please, please do a print preview before you print. Check the last page. Is there like a single sentence on the last page? If you print this document without fixing it, there will be a page with just a single sentence on it. Go back and reduce the font size by .25, or change the margins by an eighth of an inch, or whatever. For the love of hummus, don’t print out a page with just a single line of text on it! And if you have a document in Excel, make sure the orientation and the column widths make sense. If I see another printed document with a single line of text, or a single column, on the last page, I will make you eat your document.
  8. People who think nonprofits are dumpsters for their crap: An entire post will (probably) be written about this. I’ve heard horrors stories of nonprofits getting used underwear, broken furniture, adult books, a teddy bear with a single eye that bores into the depths of your soul, etc. People mean well, but come on, we’re not dumpsters, no matter what our chairs look like, and the people we serve deserve better.
  9. People who “disrupt.” Holy hummus, enough with the disruption already! I was in the Bay Area a few weeks ago, and I swear, I heard some variation of “disrupt” at least twelve times within three days: “We need creative disruption,” “let’s disrupt our thinking process a little,” “so what you’re saying is that we need disruptive marketing strategies.” Can we just figure out the crap that’s working and keep them going? You know, like general operating funds and investing in people to do stuff? What we need is meta-disruption. It is time for us to disrupt disruption itself!
  10. Board members who don’t focus on the big picture and instead micromanage or interfere: Please stop spending hours debating minor things like what font our mailings should be. Your time and brilliance is needed focusing on major policy and strategy decisions, such as whether we should invest in a line of edible note cards as earned-income revenues. 
  11. The hyperventilating alarmists: Every little thing sets them off. The stress and logistics of planning an annual gala will probably give them a heart attack. This may not be the biggest problem, except you now have to spend a lot of time reassuring them that everything is going to be OK.
  12. The irritating optimist: Damn it, everything is not always going to be OK, all right?! Stop saying it’s all going to be OK! Our gala is coming, and we haven’t notebookgotten a single sponsor! We’re doomed, doomed! You aren’t having nightmares about possums, so you don’t get to tell me things are going to be OK!
  13. (Bonus rant) People who say I look tired: Get out of my face before I eat your face.

And that concludes the annual poorly-edited birthday ranting. Before you go, check out NWB’s new shop, where you can get awesome t-shirts, hoodies, notebooks, etc.

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  • Karen Firestone

    Disrupt the disruption! Can I just say how much I really hate the term ‘disruption’? Seriously? As a buzz word it sucks. As a concept it sucks even more.

    Love your work!

  • abstract668

    I once collected a bunch of stories about the crap that people donated to battered women’s shelters. Memorable items included Barbie dolls dressed in bondage gear, eight crates of live chickens (delivered on a Friday at 4:45 pm), and a full-size stuffed horse (from a Wells Fargo bank lobby).

    And don’t get me started on disruption and other business-school think concepts.

    • Rhiannon Orizaga

      I feel like you could open a really interesting swap meet with that.

    • TJ

      I also work for a domestic violence agency… we’ve gotten dirty diapers, boxes with both live and dead mice in the bottom, and we are currently sitting with about 35 non-functioning printers, 10 monitors, 7 or 9 computers (depending on what you count as a “computer”) and 4 fax machines in our conference room. Gee. Thanks.

  • Cloggie

    “People who say I look tired” Um, no this is just what I look like without eye makeup. Sadly, not limited to NPs. FWIW, Vu, you’re looking great from where I’m sitting.

  • How is it possible that there are just a couple of people in my office who manage to hit pretty much every one of these? Some people just aim higher I guess (or lower).

  • Caroline

    I needed that! Not only does 89% apply to our NPO, but we just wrapped up our annual gala, sigh…golf is next!

  • Dana Jaehnert

    Um yeah, so NWB’s new SHOP!!! What is this life?!? Are you serious, like if we order something, it will actually come to our designated address after paying the incredibly low prices needed for AWESOME stuff that tell’s us we are nonprofit unicorns?

    I think I just fainted.

  • Holy hummus, I love you. And your baby who smells like general operating funds, unrestricted of course.

  • Rhiannon Orizaga

    “For the love of hummus…If I see another printed document with a single line of text, or a single column, on the last page, I will make you eat your document.” This is the funniest and truest thing I’ve read in a long time. Beyond wasting paper, it feels like a massive waste of time to have to turn the page for just one sentence. Never in my experience did that one sentence feel worth it.

  • Patricia Garza

    So nice to wake up to a laugh! Thank you!

  • Jessa Timmer

    Holy hummus number 8! But for us, we’re a dumping ground for projects no one else wants.
    “Who should own the Chinatown Gate once its constructed because it’s going to be a lot of liability?” “Oh, the BIA can do that!”
    “Who will continue these insanely large festivals that the community adores, yet don’t make any money?” “Well, duh, the BIA, of course!”
    “The community is all invested in a park renovation, and we’ve secured millions to do this. However, one small group of random non-stakeholders wants an octagonal kiosk with LCD screens for visitor information. Outside. Who should be charged with the maintenance of that kiosk?” “I”m certain the BIA can do it, even though park maintenance and activation is no where in their mission statement!!!”

    *these are all true scenarios that were put into place before I arrived. Luckily, I came on board in just enough time to say NO to the last one. Oooof.

  • Amy Stapleton

    The obsession with “disruption” comes along with the bizsplaining “non-profits should be like scrappy startups” mentality. To which I say two things: 1. We’ve been around for 23 years. I think we’ve officially passed into the “well-developed” stage. and 2. ARE WE NOT SCRAPPY? (please say this similar to Russell Crowe shouting “Are you not entertained?” in Gladiator) because we have lived for years with a scrappy, underfunded mentality. But there’s no light at the end of the tunnel where we’re out of the scrappiness cycle, we’ll always be desperate for more money to serve more clients, putting two pennies together to purchase one more tub of hummus, and looking desperately for that working office chair…

    Also, it’s just a way of saying “let’s think creatively!”

  • Manipulating Weasels and People who don’t know how to format documents…these two are probably my pet peeves, they drive me crazy… But I breath and slowly move past it until it comes up the next time.

    Thank you for making me smile!

  • Carol Clarke

    Great rant, so funny, points taken.

  • Leila Emadin

    Happy Birthday! And congratulations on your new little one! The world he’s been born into is becoming a better place because of you.
    All the very best-

  • Louise Penberthy

    “I dreamed I was attacked by this aggressive possum who kept biting my pant legs and I kept trying to kick at it in futility. I woke up in cold sweat and remembered it was time to plan our annual gala.”

    Mwa ha ha! That’s excellent. I was on the board of a non-profit arts organization for four years, and I chaired the auction committee for three of those. Cold sweat is right!

  • Ellen Palmer

    Would it be too passive aggressive to hang this up in my break room?

  • Meta-disruption FTW!
    And if I had a nickel for every time a board member went on a tangent about something that had already been decided three times–something that was under staff jurisdiction, mind you–and used an anecdote to back up their already shaky position, I wouldn’t have to spend so much time writing grants.

  • LA Fernea

    This made me laugh so much! I think you should write a book about nonprofits. You’re so funny that most people won’t notice how much you’re educating them too! It would be great. From the perspective of 25+ years of nonprofit experience (okay, yes I’m old), almost everything you write rings true. A book would be great, but maybe wait until the baby is older. 🙂

  • DinaClare

    Number 8, gracious yes.

  • Amanda Fabrizio

    Yeah #4 and #13. All. Day.