12 types of people who get on everyone’s nerves in nonprofit


cake-916253_640pdHi everyone, this Thursday (3/12) is my birthday, and I’m going to use it as an opportunity to shamelessly promote my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, which is trying to bring more leaders of color into the sector while supporting existing leaders. We are a nine-month-old start-up nonprofit that takes nothing for granted; we wept with joy upon finding a working dry-erase marker last week, and I’ve been sneaking into conferences to stock up on pens. If you like this blog, please consider investing in RVC’s work with a donation based on how old you think I am. That’s right, if you think I’m 45, give $45. If you think I’m 36 and a half, give $36.50. If you think I’m 86, why…you genius, that’s exactly how old I am! (And I won’t be offended if you think I’m 1,000 or 5,000 years old).

Also, because it’s my birthday this week, I am going to take a break from serious topics like equity or capacity building or performance reviews, and instead start an annual tradition of poorly-edited ranting about people in the sector who get on everyone’s nerves. Look, we have an awesome field full of smart, very good-looking, and extremely humble people. Still, there is room for improvement. If you are one of these people below, please change your ways before I form a shadow organization that will hunt you down and bring you to justice:

12 Types of People Who Get on Everyone’s Nerves in the Nonprofit Sector

(Special thanks to the NWB Facebook community for its input)

  • Board members who don’t give money to the organization in a timely manner and have to be dragged kicking and screaming at year-end. Come on! Just give something so we can say 100% of our board contributed!
  • People who suck at designing forms. If your electronic form looks like this when it’s filled out—Name:__Vu Le___—you suck at designing forms and should go to a “How to Create Forms that Don’t Suck” workshop. Learn to use tables!
  • People who reply-all on emails when they should only reply to one person. Arrgh!! Also, people who CC everyone, regardless of relevance of content. Also, people who don’t understand the difference between CC and BCC. Remember the saying: “When in doubt, BCC has clout.” (This is not nearly as catchy as it sounded in my head).
  • Volunteers who only want to do fun stuff, at certain times of the year. Really? You only want to help around the holidays? And you don’t like “filing” and “data entry” because it’s not “meaningful” enough for you and your “second grade students”?
  • People who don’t respond to doodle polls on time. Everyone else is waiting for you, Your Excellency! And holy hummus, when you finally respond after much nagging, you are only available on the days/times that no one else is?! (I’m trying to make “holy hummus” our new catch phrase. It’s totally gen-op!)
  • People who are late all the fricken time for important meetings. I know, we need to talk about cultural competency around the sense of time, since it is much more fluid in certain cultures. Still, there are all-inclusive offenders who get on the nerves of people of all different cultures. That face you see me making when you are late yet again after I called you to remind you one hour before the event to be there on time since you have a speaking role, is the face of a man who is trying hard to resist strangling you with dental floss that he always keeps in his wallet.
  • Whiny whiners who just whine about stuff and who never propose solutions. A certain amount of whining is to be expected, and is even healthy, but your overall ratio of complaints-to-proposed-solutions should be at least 1:2, favoring solutions.
  • Gossipy gossipers who gossip all the time. It’s hurtful and unprofessional and I thought we agreed that what happens at happy hour stays at happy hour, so if you’re doing that, you cut that out right now. Especially if you work in the HR department and are trained on this stuff and should know better.
  • People who suck at being team players. They don’t do the stuff they say they’ll do (boooo!!!). Or they’re all like “Meh, that’s not in my work plan” or like “sorry, I can’t help you clean up after our organization’s giant event because I made other plans.” Or they just don’t do the crap they say they’re going to do, which affects your work. A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you will know the debt is paid. (See “10 Game of Thrones quotes you can use at work.”)
  • The Automatic Naysayers, (just add ideas). As one reader puts it: “A board or staff colleague whose immediate response is no, but they can’t put their finger on exactly why, nor can they identify what further work is required to address their doubt. I think that squashes innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in the nonprofit sector.” That’s right, knock it off, you spirit squasher! This also applies to innovation crushers whose default response to new ideas is “but this is how we’ve always done it.”
  • Co-workers who should really work in for-profit. Look, if you lurrrrrv everything about businesses so much and think we should constantly be more like them, why don’t you just marry a business and get out of our faces? (See “Dear business community, stop thinking you’re better than us nonprofit folks.”)
  • People who leave their dishes in the sink for days or months. As Frank Underwood from House of Cards says, “There is no solace above or below. Only us—small, solitary, striving.” There is only us. So please wash your dishes. (See “9 lessons from House of Cards we can apply to nonprofit work.”)

All right, that’s enough ranting for one birthday. No wait, readers also hate: people who speak in acronyms, people who clip their nails at their desk at work, people who provide driving/parking instructions for events but mention nothing about public transit or bike parking, and people who use obnoxious made-up words and phrases like totes, adorbs, and the feels—talk like a human being! Add your pet peeves in the comment section.

Next week, we get back to serious matters, such as how we need more reality TV shows about nonprofits.

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31 thoughts on “12 types of people who get on everyone’s nerves in nonprofit

  1. Margaret Crites

    Happy Birthday. How about people who tell you they are coming to the meeting, miss the meeting, and then claim that the fixed date/time on the calendar, the email, the two facebook posts (at you know they saw because facebook told you they saw it and they thumbed up the snack note), wasn’t clear enough for them to know exactly when the meeting was.

    1. Nancy Steele

      Or they claim they have the meeting on their calendar for another date (today!) and darn it they are double booked on the actual real meeting date.

      1. Facebook User

        Or say they didn’t get the email, and you have a response from the email that says they will attend.

        1. Lisa Haderlein

          Or are asked to let you know if they would like pizza to eat at the meeting so you are sure to get enough for everyone, then don’t respond and are first in line taking 5 slices of pizza, meaning that you have to make do for dinner with just a crust – again…

  2. Judy Levine

    Love how you put words to the grumbling that I didn’t even realize was going on in my head (but that probably contributes to why I need to sleep with a retainer because I gnash my teeth so much in my sleep…)

    HB, and no I don’t think you’re 50!

  3. Hickory Hill

    LMAO! Our museum belongs to a cooperative group of other non-profits that provide educational programming and these 12 things are each well represented by at least 1 if not more members of that group. I would add those that drag a meeting out for 2 hours with something that really could have been handled in one email! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Kristy Creel

      Agreed! And it makes me want to pass these out after every one of “those” meetings.

    2. Jennifer Watts

      Also, board members who propose wildly inappropriate ideas with no bearing on the org’s mission under the auspices of “new business.” Thus making the meeting an extra hour long and causing everyone eye strain from involuntary eye-rolling. Happy Birthday, Vu!

  4. Nancy Steele

    I’d like to propose a reality TV show about white girls who are on way too many nonprofit boards in addition to working full time for a nonprofit. Or as one woman said when asked how she could be on 19 boards, “it’s all about the relationships, honey.” Ok maybe the “white girls” part is unnecessary and gratuitous. But I bet Hollywood would take this idea to Alaska and make the star a white man with a beard who hunts too many bears because he can’t say no to hunting trips.

  5. Bob Beatty

    How about the volunteer who always utters the Five.Dreaded.Words, “Oh! I have an idea!” or “What you really should do…” and then walks out and leaves you finding a way to fit what might be a harebrained idea into your daily work. (Properly managed, volunteer-led affinity groups head this off at the pass I’ve found.)

  6. Kirsten Harris-Talley

    In addition to “can’t make forms”…can’t make a single document with consistent fonts and formatting. Really? Come on people!

  7. Tim Schottman

    Happy Birthday old man! May your vegan chocolate cake be moist! Thank you for lowering my contribution to your age!

  8. Bharati Ramachandran

    Happy birthday! Or Board members who tell the professional copywriter, “It
    doesn’t have the wow factor. Lemme run it past my 16 year old nephew who writes

  9. dclaudew

    The subway part is certainly true in Atlanta. I’ve been to so many Nonprofit events that do not mention public transportation, so I assume the event is in the middle of nowhere. When I arrive in my car, there is a subway entrance immediately across the street! Their excuse is that they have never met anyone who asked about public transportation. Yikes!

  10. Ann Tydeman-Solomon

    This week, your blog made my Friday suck a lot less. Thanks, and Happy belated b-day

  11. Kelly Martin

    Happy Birthday to my favorite nonprofit Unicorn! Two things I wanted to share:

    1. On my nerves – folks who reach out to your org to ask you to come and provide a service you offer for free in exchange for exposure about your org!

    2. This is actually part of an upcoming app I am working on and it makes me so happy I feel like it’s MY birthday: “We do not require a line-itemed budget with your grant proposal. Our funding decisions are based on the strength of your organization in each of our criteria. We trust that your organization will direct X’s grant dollars to the areas in your organization that enable you to accomplish the goals detailed in your proposal.”

    Victory is Ours, Vu! Enjoy your special day!

  12. Sue

    Professionals who consistently call children “kiddos”
    Our Non-Profit has an OLD printer – we must build its “ego” with Pep talks to keep it working.
    YES!! Non profit reality shows! A whole new world of entertainment awaits!

  13. nicole

    OMG — Learn to use tables!!! I haven’t even finished reading and I’m in love. Tables. Seriously. It will change your life. I have even gotten so irritated at forms that I made one properly and just gave it to the pitiful soul using the piece of crap form.

  14. S NV Nonprofit Info Ctr

    There’s an off-shoot to the “Volunteers who only want to do fun stuff, at certain times of the year” observation.
    It’s the “Let’s have a food drive only at the end of the year” … as if food-insecure people are hungry only during the months of November and December.

  15. RubyJuly

    Dishes? Reminds me of a similar work situation: The Family Run Business of which i am a card carrying Survivor. A sign appeared in the break room: “Please do your own dishes. Your Mother does not work here.” When i pointed out to my brother that our mother did indeed work here, he sighed and said “who do you think made the sign?”

  16. JEN

    Coworkers who send you an email and immediately get up from their desk and appear in your doorway asking if you got their email they just sent. Chill.

  17. aloafofbread

    Related to automatic naysayers — people who get one piece of information and jump to conclusions about a decision, event, or organization. What is your conclusion based on? Argh!

  18. aloafofbread

    People who say your organization is spread too thin and takes on too much at the same time as other people who are saying you should also work on 2 other issues! ARGH!

  19. cpetersky

    “Or they’re all like ‘Meh, that’s not in my work plan’” – well, I’ve also been in the situation where my loyalty is to my boss, and if she told me what to do – I gotta do what she told me to do. I’ll help you with your stuff after my stuff gets done. Or after I’ve checked with her, and made sure it’s OK with her to leave my tasks to do your tasks. Please do not give me an evil side-eye for not immediately jumping in to help.

  20. beast

    Board Members whose time is clearly more valuable than mine. We aren’t talking Fortune 500 folks whose time is valuable. But board members who show up late, inform everyone that we need to change the agenda because they have to leave early (30 minutes later) so they can speak to their issues and then leave. To then complain that nothing happens at board meetings and why isnt the staff moving issues forward.

  21. tschleder

    And how annoying is the reverse of, “Go marry a corporation…”: The Corporate Whizbang Hack ED your short-sighted board/agency just hired because they think it’s finally 2006. Oops, maybe that only happens in New Mexico. Pray for us here, peeps. And send money.

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