When you work for a nonprofit, how do you decide to spend money on yourself?
I was in charge of staff development at my last nonprofit job. That meant organizing in-services and other trainings intended to help our supervisors work as effectively as possible with our volunteers.
One year, I was especially proud that the program hired a management consultant to meet with the supervisors quarterly to talk about the art of supervising volunteers. To my mind – and to my Executive Director’s mind, there was nothing more essential than making sure our supervisors were well schooled in supervision practices.
I was so excited to offer this service to the supervisors – and surprised at the push-back I received from a couple of co-workers.
It wasn’t about the coaching. My co-workers knew this coach and liked him: it was because we were paying this coach to teach supervision.
“We’re a nonprofit,” said one co-worker. “People should be donating their services to us.”
Supervising volunteers was the most important thing our program did. It made sense to hire a qualified person to coach our staff around this essential skill. I was willing to pay for something valuable and at a rate that reflected this professional’s expertise.
And yet, my colleagues implied, it was a poor use of funds to pay for something they needed.
You might agree. Sometimes it’s hard to advocate for ourselves in an environment where people make do with donated goods and services– or are even willing to go without.
We may feel guilty about asking for something when all we hear about are budget problems. We may feel that we’re not “team players” when we want to attend a course with a market rate price tag. Instead, we settle for building our skills with free resources that may not completely do the job.
I’m not saying that you next step is to walk into your boss’s office and demand a first class ticket to the next professional conference.
I am suggesting that we reframe the discussion.
The issue is not whether or not your program has a tight budget. To me, the real issue is how we feel about our work – and about ourselves. We are not second class citizens because we work for organizations that raise their funds through charitable means. We are professionals working for a business (yes, nonprofits ARE businesses), and businesses invest in their employees.
Every nonprofit wants to fulfill its mission – the work you do plays a big part in your program’s success. The next time you need something valuable and hesitate to ask for it – whether it’s a training, a new computer or a desk that’s not falling apart – ask yourself why you would settle for less?
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