Nonprofit pros, do the best you can

Oh, it's not that bad. Our office is way less 1988 than this. Silly.

“Welcome to nonprofit world.” What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Like you nonprofit people have such a uniquely sucky work situation. Have you ever worked at an ad agency? For the state? At a start-up? In retail?! Work in one of those places, then give me a call and we’ll chat about what sucks.

Oh, but now…. Monica starting to get it. Monica understand. Monica stuff envelopes at work.

I know that sounds royal — surely any of you who know me, who know that I’ve had two or more jobs for 15 years, who know I’m a mother of two strong, willful children who enjoy experimenting with fluids that stain and insects with hair, know that I am not afraid to lick a few envelopes. The princess thing is not even what I’m talking about (also, we have an envelope-licking machine, thank goodness).

What I’m just now starting to understand is the frustration. The public perception that a nonprofit can and should operate with the lowest possible overhead can be utterly defeating. I can imagine how a nonprofit professional can spend half the day researching, planning and preparing for a high-impact project, and the rest of the day wondering how they could be so stupid and naive.

Suddenly the realization hits: Of course, you can’t get all that done in time! Nor could you possibly spend the money to get it done right! Oh well, just do the best you can. And get used to being overwhelmed.

That versus working at a drkoop.com sometime around 2001, say, where, when you said you had a great idea for a five-part story about Medicare, your boss suggested you hire a full-time reporter straight out of Medill. (Welcome to Texas, Eileen Smith!)

And don’t give me the collaboration suggestion. The fact is, that happens more and less than people think. And it doesn’t always work out.

Torquil says I have the unique ability to complain about everything, but with this post, I am trying to express my solidarity with the hardworking people of nonprofits. Where I work, in all honesty, it’s pretty great, even compared to drkoop.com because here I’m surrounded by smart people. (Burn! Not to Eileen. She’s obviously very smart. Taking my burn back.)

But to those of you who work — who are driven by the need to do good – at a nonprofit, I say, “I think I get it. You’re doing a great job.”

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2 Responses

  1. Monica I love this post. You’re so on the mark about not being able to get it all done.

    I had this discussion with my fabulous mate just a couple of days ago, about how I have all this terrific ideas for investigative reporting projects and couldn’t possibly get ’em all done anytime soon, not enough money to pay the experienced freelancers I have to do this hard work.

    She wisely (always wisely) counseled patience (something I’m short of) and to reflect all the good work we’ve been able to get published in just the first four months The Austin Bulldog has been operating.

    That put it in perfect perspective. I’m no less impatient, but that probably lowered the frustration level quite a bit.

  2. One of my all-time favorite NPO moments happened recently at a bank, when the bank person looked at my organization’s info and said, “Wait, you actually get PAID at a nonprofit?” …There’s quite of bit of misunderstanding about the nonprofit sector. As a result, many people’s expectations – about what we do and how much it costs and how much expertise it requires – are way off. But we’ll keep telling ’em, one by one by one…

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