First and foremost, it’s an affinity for the cause. It can’t be just a job due to the many hats you have to wear. So whichever nonprofit it is, I’d say 90% arrive there because the cause had some trigger in their memory bank or their emotional psyche. It could be cancer. It could be heart and stroke. It could be museums…or orchestra. It’s some love they’ve had maybe from long ago, and now there’s an organization that does that. And that’s exciting. That’s the first draw.
But over the threshold, there awaits a whole gamut of demands, obstacles and skills needed. Those things add up to a mountain. And the Mission, the call, or your love for the cause is like a tiny crumb on the floor because everything else is so “eyes-wide-open” and overwhelming. A person arriving on the scene for the first time thinks, “Wow, I didn’t know all this had to happen in the background. I didn’t know that in order to have a food bank, we had to have logistics and gas and a schedule for the volunteers who also have to be engaged and managed!” Working with a charity takes attention and significant energy every day. You can’t go in and put your head on the desk and think the clock will tick and the day will end. That’s not how it goes in a nonprofit.
When you choose to enter the charity sector, you’re in a fishbowl. Eyes are on you because you represent a cause, and you need people to support you with either time or money. In a fishbowl, everything gets commented on. Everyone can feel and see it. If you want to work where you’re not noticed and don’t have to be accountable, a nonprofit is not the way to go. This can be overwhelming for many people. The comment I’ve heard so often is, “We have to work so hard!” Yes, you do.
Layer that reality with board members struggling to understand their role, and a CEO who is well-intentioned but whose attitude, insights and vision will determine what goes on over the threshold. You bump into an awful lot that you didn’t expect with you thought, “I really like that cause. My mom had Alzheimer’s. I want to work for the Alzheimer Society.” Then, you step in and realize there’s a database, liability insurance, money to raise, marketing to create, overhead to manage and it doesn’t matter what size your shop is. All those elements are always there.
Your thriving point? Know and understand the magnitude of the career you’ve chosen. It’s time you embraced it.
This excerpt is from “The Nonprofit Book of Wisdom,” published in 2020 by Civil Sector Press.
Sheree Allison’s career as an executive director spans 30 years for Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs of Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada. As a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), exceptional strategic fundraising has been the hallmark of Sheree’s career.