10 reasons nonprofit work is totally awesome


hummus-1058000_960_720Hi everyone, I got feedback from my ED friend, Director Lee, that I spend too much time pointing out the challenges of the field and not enough time on the good stuff that happens. “Vu,” she wrote, “I am enjoying your posts. But you gotta talk about the good stuff too. We aren’t all scraping by and exhausted all the time. Sometimes it’s fun too!” All right all right, I’ll try to be more positive, starting with today’s post. Here are the top 10 reasons why our work is so totally awesome, like the best work ever on earth. They are in no particular order. Add your reasons for why you love nonprofit work in the comment section.

    1. It’s never boring. I have no idea what each day will be like. Can you imagine a job where you do the same thing every single day? I can, and in fact, I’ve worked in a couple of them. And I’d rather eat my own arms than do that again. Each day in nonprofit work is like a snowflake. For instance, one day you could be focused on a grant, another day you could be planning a special event, hiring someone, talking to a client, tutoring a kid, having a committee meeting, listening to a panel, being on a panel, whittling small animals out of soap, all of the above, welding, fixing the toilet, painting walls, cooking clam chowder, or quietly napping on your fold-out cot while your staff stuff thank-you letters.
    2. It’s flexible. We have a lot of leeway with our schedules. My corporate friends are all like “I only have 30 minutes for lunch.” Eating lunch for only 30 minutes at the same time each day? Oh hell no. I like a leisurely two-hour lunch where I could chew my organic kale and enjoy every bite, and then do my work later at home. The flexibility is especially great for us exempt staff, who can work whatever hours we like, as long as they add up to 60 hours each week.
    3. You learn and use all sorts of skills. Because we are so understaffed—I mean, because there are so many opportunities, we get to learn and hone all sorts of cool skills. A Development Director can learn HR, a Finance Director can learn fundraising and program development and astrology, a Program Coordinator can learn botany and ornithology, an ED can learn finance and marketing and janitorial skills, etc. 
    4. It is casual everyday! Look around at your colleagues. Where else can you dress this way and still be considered a respected professional? I wear jeans every single day, and each stain on my shirt is a badge of honor. See this red blotch on this shirt from Ross Dress for Less? That’s from serving our after-school program kids a lunch of pasta one time. That red blotch says “I did something that made the world better…and I should have used my Tide bleach pen sooner.”
    5. Nonprofit people are all unicorns. We get to meet and work with amazing people every day, people so ridiculously inspiring and awesome that our souls grow warmer and fuzzier just by being around them. People who are working each day to make the world better. Good-looking, intelligent people with great dental hygiene.
    6. There are far fewer jackasses. Conversely, there are relatively few A-holes in the field. I mean, they exist, and you will definitely have to resist the urge to punch them in the mouth and take away their sticky dots before they suggest and vote on something stupid at a retreat, but I think there is a far smaller number in our field.
    7. We are making the world better. I know, we hear that all the time, especially in our heads as we cry ourselves softly to sleep after failing to get a critical grant or something, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Dude, it’s still true! Our work directly helps to make people’s lives better, less lonely, less scary, warmer, fuller of color and music and happiness and sometimes, bunnies. 
    8. Ideas matter. Because we are flexible and surrounded by awesome people, ideas are much more likely to be taken into consideration and acted upon. In the corporate world, from what I hear, it could take you years to build your credentials and climb your way up before your awesome idea sees the light of day. Here, if you have a good idea, chances are you could find some kick-ass partners and funders and get it done. This is why I’m going to be pitching to the board my brilliant idea of starting a teeth tattoo parlor as an earned income venture.
    9. There is fame and adoration and bragging rights. Ok, maybe not fame or adoration, but maybe respect and some admiration among your friends who are stuck in a cubicle wondering what the meaning of life is and cool things you are doing to make the world better. Sure they get paid better, but really, many are envious of us, and that is totally worth the less fancy vacations and houses and cars and healthcare and organic blueberries, etc.,
    10. Unlimited hummus. That’s right, unlimited hummus. We go to a lot of meetings, and there is always creamy, delicious hummus, usually served with pita wedges and baby carrots. All the hummus you can eat. Sometimes it’s spicy hummus. Sometimes it’s roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomatoes flavored. One time it was toasted pine nuts flavored. Toasted pine nuts, you guys! Do people in other fields get this much hummus? I doubt it.

There you go, our field is cool and so is everyone in it. Sure, there are tons of challenges and we are stressed frequently. But I agree with my friend Director Lee, it can be lots of fun. I love this work and the people I get to work with. I mean it. I can’t imagine doing anything else. At least, not until my teeth tattoo idea takes off. 


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21 thoughts on “10 reasons nonprofit work is totally awesome

  1. Stacy Ashton

    I totally agree with the variety – being bored is like my kryptonite. I hate the feeling of being bored far more than the feeling of panic! I did office admin for a while in a big corporation, and when I ran out of things to do, the time draaaagggggggeeeed on forvever. On the plus side, the boredom did force me to read the introduction to the dictionary, which turned out to be a fascinating document about who decides what are “words” and what aren’t, and the difference between prescriptive and descriptive approaches to dictionaries, and how the dictionary-making offices have tons of file folders filled with clippings from magazines and newspapers showing words being used in context. And then I look at my own office and wish I had a dictionary assistant to do my filing, because I bet they are really good at that.

    1. Vu Le

      I know the feeling. Next time you’re bored, though, Stacy, let me know. You can help me with grantwriting! Fun!

    1. Vu Le

      Thanks, Veruca. What a horrible system. I’m glad we’re not as competitive. I will, however, push anyone out of the way to get to the hummus.

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  3. lucy1375

    You forgot that people appreciate you more! I have never been thanked for ANYTHING I did in the corporate world, but people thank me all the time in the association world! In fact, just last week, when I was having a blah week, I received an e-mail through LinkedIn from a member that she was trying to endorse me for being wonderful and couldn’t find that option. I’m always overwhelmed at the appreciation our members show for us doing our jobs.

    1. Vu Le

      Thanks, Lucy. That is a great reason. That’s because people are so great in this field. We appreciate one another. Usually.

    2. seattlesherryann

      This is very, very true. I love hearing that I’m a rock star from our members. I am not, but I seduce them with awesome food (see my little food comment) and often donated beer — does their accountant or landlord or co-worker rock the food & beer at meetings? I think not. (So, I guess I am a rock star.)

  4. Danielle Kempe

    Ha! Love the list but I do not get unlimited hummus at meeting for my nonprofit. I do occasionally get lunch from Panera Bread though from a partner organization. MMMM salad!

      1. Stacy Ashton

        I laughed about the hummus thing, and then I went to a community event Monday night and what did I find? A MASSIVE bowl of very tasty hummus.

  5. seattlesherryann

    Hummus and little food. Little food always tastes better than full-size food. Of course, the cute little food is usually room temp & a little crusty post-event & being eaten with aching feet while packing up a lot of stuff to schlep back to the office. But it’s free, little and cute.

    1. Vu Le

      This comment finally showed up in my notifications! Little foods are always better tasting, I completely agree, even if it’s kind of crusted over.

  6. Corson Nikkel

    Wow! This whole time I was wondering “what the hell is up with the hummus food donations?”

    Here’s the answer, lol.

  7. Shana Hillman

    Last year we had a hummus company sponsor our fundraiser – I am not even kidding – 7 types of artisan hummus and leftover hummus for weeks. Our whole operation is literally fueled by hummus.

  8. just peachy.

    I wish I liked hummus 🙁 I think tequila and leftover wines from past events should be provided at staff meetings.

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