All right, you guys, we need to talk about nonprofit salaries

54557587Last month, one of my friends told me she was making 70K as a waitress at a fancy restaurant. She quit because she didn’t find it satisfying, and took a pay cut to work as a community organizer. I wept softly into my soy hot chocolate. 70K was way more than I was making as an ED with rapidly greying hair and daily night terrors.

Most of us who entered the nonprofit field didn’t do so because of the Benjamins. We knew, when we decided to dedicate our lives to making the world better, that we would not likely be able to afford a huge house with a pool. Or trips abroad every year. Or private school for our kids. Or maybe healthcare. Or organic blueberries at $6 per pint. Gawd, that’s like fifty cents a berry! Seriously, are organic blueberries watered with unicorn tears?!

Sorry, where was I? Yes, we knew what we were getting into. There are tons of reasons why nonprofit work is so awesome (See “10 reasons nonprofit work is so awesome”), and not one of those is a huge pay. Unless you include unlimited hummus at meetings as part of wages. Continue Reading…

7 challenges inspired by the Icebucket Challenge

Ice Bucket ChallengeUp until now, I’ve managed to avoid talking about the Icebucket Challenge. First, because I don’t have a personal Facebook page and thus have been spared videos of friends and celebrities pouring freezing cold water over their heads to raise awareness and funds for ALS.

Second, I’ve been very jealous at the humbling success of this viral campaign. Over 100 million raised?! Can you imagine what most nonprofits could do with $100,000,000? Five words: Unlimited. Breadsticks. During. Committee. Meetings.

Honestly, I’m not really sure how I feel about it all. On one hand, it’s inspiring that so many people—people of all races and classes, kids and adults, celebrities and the unwashed masses—are participating in addressing a terrible and incurable disease. It’s great that an important message is able to cut through the noises and get some needed attention. Continue Reading…

The joys and burdens of being an ED of color

orangesLast week I flew to Los Angeles to talk to a group of 12 or so Asian/Pacific Islander EDs who are in a leadership program of which I am an alum. This cohort was a group of all women. I was a bit nervous, looking at the leaders seated in a circle. First of all, there were some EDs who have had way more experience than I do. And second of all, people in LA are hella stylish, and in comparison, I looked like I was dressed by a few smarter-than-average bonobos.

The EDs came from all over the US and work in many different areas—art, cancer awareness, education, etc. They had the archetypal look of the Executive Director: Radiant good looks surrounded by an aura of power stymied by baggy eyes, greying hair, and the slouched shoulders of stress and exhaustion.

It’s rough being an ED, but being an ED of color has an additional set of stress: Continue Reading…

Icebreakers, do’s and don’ts, and some that don’t suck

boring-meetings-made-betterWhen I say “icebreaker,” what images or feelings come to mind? For some people, they think “Yay, a fun game to get to know people!” For others, it is a swirling vortex of darkness and hatred.

A while ago I wrote a post describing what bad-ass mythical creatures you are. Each creature has different qualities and preferences. Whether you like icebreakers may depend on what creature you are. Unicorns, for example, love harmony and crap like that, so they tend to like them. Phoenixes are always distracted and have unlimited energy, so they like them too. Lion-Turtles love processes and don’t want to share much about themselves, so they’re leery of icebreakers. And dragons, who are action-oriented, would rather eat one of their arms than share their feelings in a wishy-washy icebreaker.

Whether we like them or not, icebreaking activities can play important roles, such as lightening the mood, building energy, improving team dynamics, and distracting people from the fact that the snacks are skimpy and probably left over from another meeting (why is the hummus so crusty?). Yet so many suck, or are deployed wrong and end up wasting people’s time or embarrassing them. Find-Someone-Who, for example. Participants are given a sheet of paper and are asked to go around the room finding people who speak four languages, has a pet chihuahua, is gluten-free, makes soap from bacon grease, or whatever. Problem is, by the end of the activity, no one remembers a single fact about anyone, and obsessive people feel resentful that they didn’t get enough time to complete their checklist. Meanwhile, “Two Truths and a Lie” should be renamed “Two Hours and a Half” because that’s how long it usually takes to get through everyone’s truths and lies. Continue Reading…

The courage for mediocrity: We nonprofit professionals need to give ourselves a break

stressAfter being in this sector for over a decade, I can say that nonprofit professionals are some of the most awesome people on earth. We are so smart, talented, dedicated, passionate, caring, humble, witty, cool, and hilarious. Also, we are really good-looking and are great dressers. Let’s see someone from the corporate sector rock that $6.99 button-down shirt from Ross, Dress for Less (originally $13.99).

But we are burning out, you guys. Our natural good looks are obscured by stress-induced wrinkles, grey hair, and maybe one eye that twitches uncontrollably during staff meetings. The work never stops, our organizations are understaffed, and people’s lives depend on our actions and decisions. We work in the evenings and on the weekends, skip vacations, and when we’re on vacation we check our emails because we know if we ignore them, they will start multiplying like hipsters. It is a brutal cycle that leads to many of us leaving the sector to make jewelry that are then sold at farmer’s markets. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, despite the fact that the world could use more necklaces made out of beach glass and soda can tabs. Continue Reading…