I admit it: I’m a fan of the When You Work at a Nonprofit Tumblr. I’ve spent a fair amount of time (at work!) poring over hilarious captioned gifs that capture what it means to work for a nonprofit organization: the dizzying highs when you receive a major gift; the soul-crushing lows when you notice a typo in your annual report; the mad rush for new office supplies or leftover snacks from a board meeting…it’s all there. More than once I’ve found myself reacting to posts like this by saying “RIGHT?!” a little too loudly and looking around for someone to high-five in agreement.
Clever gifs aside, I feel guilty buying into the nonprofit stereotype. The more I read about the sector from smart people like Jim Toscano, Trista Harris and YNPN’s own Lindsay Bacher, the more I realize it’s in the midst of a sea change. Those moving nonprofits into a new era are breaking down the overhead myth and are making the case for measurable outcomes as never before. Though we’d like to believe nonprofit organizations can and will one day accomplish their lofty missions on their own, it’s more likely that nonprofits blurring the lines between sectors and working alongside businesses and government will have the greatest impact in the years to come.
What can I do to contribute to a smarter, better, healthier nonprofit sector? I’m busy just trying to keep up with the work of my organization—changing the course of philanthropy is not on my work plan. I don’t have the influence or experience to be a major change maker, but I have decided I’m going to do something about it, and I’m going to start small.
I’m going to stop saying “nonprofit.”
I think this word contributes to the stereotype that our sector is full of organizations that are grossly underfunded and therefore lack business sense and skill. For-profit businesses suffer from their own stigmas and stereotypes, too, but the word nonprofit defines us by what we aren’t, not what we are or what we’re capable of. When You Work at a Nonprofit is meant for insiders who find humor in the inner workings of a nonprofit organization and I can certainly get on board with that. More important to me than having a sense of humor about my work is having a sense of pride in helping to keep our sector vital and relevant.
The next time someone asks me what I do, I’m not going to say I work at a nonprofit. I’m going to say I work for a social service organization, or an organization that is working to close the achievement gap. It’s a small change to be sure—possibly the smallest I could make—but it represents a different way of thinking about what I do and why I do it.
What small change can you make to help move us forward?