On the heels of Donor Attitudes That Can Drive Us To Drink is my response to common attitudes by the everyday person about how people in the nonprofit sector should act, speak and believe. Like my words about donors, we are so grateful for the pubilc's help in keeping nonprofit agencies going! You folks are a swell bunch, I must say. However there are some persistent attitudes that sometimes make our work difficult. Grab your spoon and dive into the cookie dough bowl with us. One more bite won't hurt. 😉
1. "Your admin costs are far too high."
Ahhhh… the old admin costs complaint. Let me begin by saying that nonprofit folks want to see our dollars go to programming and supports as well — directly. We want our money, our time and our resources going towards help the people who need it most using the most direct method. Let me also say that there have been nonprofits who have begun their outreaches with such high administration costs that it's hard to take them seriously as agents of change in our world.
Now… for the rest of us. Please cease expecting us to pull white bunnies out of our hat. Yes, I mean "hat" singular. For if you continue to insist on all of us collectively keeping our admin costs down, we only have one ratty hat to share around (and one poor aging rabbit who'd really like to retire at some point).
Bottom line: admin costs are inevitable.
We need photocopiers… paper… pens… computers… accountants… bookkeepers… internet… stamps… envelopes… rent… people to issue your tax-deductible receipts. All of these things cost money and the costs of living are not going down. What's more, not all nonprofits can rely on volunteers to perform admin tasks on a daily basis. Often paid positions are required to keep an NPO going. Weigh for yourself a nonprofit's use of funds and how it divides donations, but perhaps give a little more wiggle room for our administrative needs.
2. "What do you mean you want a raise? You're working here because you love it!"
Yes, we love working where we do. And we love working with the people that we do. Especially if we're long-termers at one specific NPO, chances are our hearts are deeply invested in the core mission/vision of the NPO. You can be sure that we've chosen a simpler lifestyle, but that doesn't mean we can just snap our fingers and live on pennies. Pennies don't exist anymore in Canada!
Granted, larger NPOs can afford to pay their employees more. And I would agree with the sentiment that perhaps a more equitable pay grid ought to be seriously considered when big-wig CEOs are paid big bucks while the grunts on the ground are given… well… pennies.
On the whole, however, the word "raise" rarely comes up. Companies, donors, businesses, people expect us to work for nothing. If we even dare mention the need for a raise, people get their hackles up. Obviously we're not in it for the people, but to rob our NPO blind! (rolls eyes…)
Like #1, costs of living are going up. Where I live — oil boom country — housing costs are expensive, unjust, unfair and unattainable. If you want to keep your people running a healthy NPO… pay us.
And pay us well with a living wage. Trust us that we are indeed working where we are because we are passionate about what we do, but pay us in such a way that we can live to do our jobs.
3. "Stop getting a free ride from the government. Pay your taxes like the rest of us."
It's true that in the United States and Canada, NPOs are afforded some tax breaks in order to more effectively fulfill our missions/visions. We aren't out to scam anyone, be lazy, our somehow pay less in taxes than you do. In fact, we have to work harder to make sure there will be money to secure paychecks, money to keep up our infrastructure, money to change lightbulbs.
More often than not, we are doing jobs that you do not want to do — feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, filling in educational gaps, offering spiritual support/direction, collecting clothes, reaching out to people with addictions. Oh sure you might want to volunteer now and then, but for many people these aren't career choices for life. If you're like me, we don't just feed people or host local youth drop-ins, but we're our own toilet-scrubbers, wall painters, plumbers and all around fix-it folks. Before ragging on us about our many tax-breaks, take a good look at how much we truly do in the community.
4. "You'll take anything." (and be grateful for it!)
No we won't.
Kind of like what I wrote in the donors' post, some people have it in their heads that we'll take all of your discarded clothing, dented cans of food and broken down furniture. The truth is: No.We.Won't.
Most of us are scrambling for space as it is, so if we don't have a clothing program, please don't donate clothes. (and if we do have a clothing program, please call ahead and see what we need first. Used tampons inside a purse is really not something we look forward to sorting through… true story)
If we don't have a food program or soup kitchen, please don't donate food.
If we need new furniture because the Executive Director nearly died because the chair he was sitting on finally fell to pieces from underneath him during a board meeting, getting ratty discards isn't going to help! (we aren't opposed to 2nd hand materials; but please be kind and check the condition!)
If we aren't open when you drive around to drop stuff off, don't be ticked off. We have business hours. Call ahead. Call ahead. Call ahead.
If we need volunteers, be willing to spread it around. Everyone wants Christmas. Hey, if you want to wear a Santa hat while helping us with annual spring cleaning in May, GO FOR IT! 😀 But be willing to understand that we need help in various ways and at various times.
5. "Why doesn't somebody do something about that?"
Person A sees an issue in the community and, before doing some homework, spouts off on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, and personal blogs that 'someone should just DO something already!'
In my experience there are usually two paths this attitude takes:
1. Person A spouts of until Person B, nicely or not-so-nicely, informs Person A that NPO X has been operating in the community for X-number of years. Sometimes this gets Person A on board as a super volunteer. Or… Person A tries to save face by dowsing NPO X's collective esteem with phrases like: "Well they certainly don't seem to be helping!"
2. Person A, whether Person B informs them of NPO X of not, goes off and starts NPO Y. I mean, if you want something done well you have to do it yourself, right?
Now we have what's called a duplication of services. In a small geographic area, we have competing NPOs who need the same money, try to help the same pool of clients, and more often than not maintain competition just to stay alive rather than cooperate. This drains financial donors, confuses the public, and often hurts clients rather than helps.
People: do your homework first. It saves face and informs about how you can best give back to your community. And if you still feel that you need to start your own initiative, consider how you could fill a tangible gap rather than emulating an already existing NPO. This will build cooperation, rather than bolster competition.
Cookie dough, anyone?
Pass the chocolate chip.