Each and every dollar

If you work at a nonprofit, as I do, you might pause and consider: each and every dollar for your organization comes from a gift.

Obvious at some level, but if you stop to think about this for a second your perspective changes.  Think of the seriousness and the intention of every donor, the dreams – small or big – they attach to the donation they have made.

I’m not at all advocating for penury for nonprofit staff; in fact I firmly believe that we need the best people to create massive change.  The problems we are working on are so important, so challenging, so complex, and pay is part of the equation in getting and keeping the best folks.

But there’s a certain humility that comes with remembering that you are working on someone else’s dime, that no matter where you are and what you are doing, you are engaged in service work thanks to the trust that someone has placed in you and in your organization.

It never ceases to amaze me that the nonprofit sector has a reputation for being less rigorous, less focused, less fast-paced, less strategic than the private sector.  First, because all the people I know who work at nonprofits put their hearts and souls into their work every day.  Second because once we’ve made the decision to do this work we have no choice but to be completely committed and to do our best work every day.

The minimum bar is to treat the money your organization spends like your own.

The higher bar is to remember that it is a gift from someone else, entrusted to you to make a change in the world.

It’s a huge responsibility.

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8 Responses to Each and every dollar

  1. Prerana says:

    Wow!makes me want to work harder…

  2. Mozart says:

    Really enjoyed reading this! And I agree with Prerana, it makes me work harder!!!

  3. jerrywunder@gmail.com says:

    A good article; should or something similar is helpful reading on periodic basis to remind us of the truth of what you’ve written. Good leaders call others to higher levels of cooperation and commitment to the cause; without good leadership, I see compliance to what’s necessary but not to the commitment that’s needed. As evidenced by my note and the others above, your well written piece calls us up to something higher, something better.

    I like the thought of tag teaming with the donor’s dream/vision for their gift. Thank you.

  4. Quite a touching article, I must say.

    “It never ceases to amaze me that the nonprofit sector has a reputation for being less rigorous, less focused, less fast-paced, less strategic than the private sector. First, because all the people I know who work at nonprofits put their hearts and souls into their work every day.”

    Probably because very few people work on a pile of issues, and sometimes doing certain things, they’re not best at doing. There are stuffs requiring professional touch, and budding NGOs rarely have funds to get that.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Actually, the non-profits I worked for in the past often survived off of resentfully forked-over tax dollars.

    That said, I appreciate what you are saying. I have given many a lecture to field staff about sitting around in an idling car. “Some nurse with two children at home, like my poor mother was, is giving you part of her salary to do this?!? She thinks you are feeding a baby with that money and you are wasting gas. I hope you can still sleep at night, knowing a child in your neighborhood is hungry.” In fact I was unfortunately famous for this type of lecture. But I could say that because I did stay awake at night cross-checking monitoring tables.

    Ashotush: “Probably because very few people work on a pile of issues, and sometimes doing certain things, they’re not best at doing. There are stuffs requiring professional touch, and budding NGOs rarely have funds to get that.”

    I disagree. We get lots of people from the private sector and they are invariably lazier and less precise than the non-profit workers. They just think we are not strategic because we are not making money. They think we are not effective because we have not solved the entire worlds’ problems.

    Imagine if we said that business was not successful because there were still resources out there to exploit, and markets untouched. We’d be thought ridiculous. And yet, we let them make the same claims about us all the time.

    On an unrelated note, I love your name. What does it mean?

  6. Mario says:

    It is indeed a huge responsibility to work on others’ dime, I personally fell the responsibility it even more than from the wage I used to get in the private sector.

    Thanks for this.
    Mario

  7. Danielle Sanders says:

    Definitely agree- great post. Thanks for reminding us all! Very inspirational when you think about it!

  8. I disagree–I think in some cases, it is a gift. But in other cases, those donations come from a moral obligation the very wealthy have to give back. When people in the low and middle classes give, I consider that generous. When the wealthy give, I consider that necessary. I believe that the incredibly wealthy obtained there wealth based on societal circumstances, and thus, their fortune isn’t completely “theirs.” Most nonprofits are doing work that is necessary, not work that should be seen as supplemental or “gifted” to society.

    Also–what about nonprofits that are funded by government grants or contracts? Is paying taxes an act of generosity?

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