10 rules for dating in the nonprofit sector


loveDozens of people have asked me to address dating within the nonprofit sector, and by dozens of people, I mean one drunk single person at a fundraising gala. This is not a topic that we talk much about, but it is important, because of self-care and blah blah, so I asked the brilliant and attractive people in the NWB Facebook community to help create a list of rules. Here is the list below. Please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list. Rules may be changed, and new rules may be added. 

10 Rules for Dating in the Nonprofit Sector

Rule 1, the Cardinal Rule of Dating in the Nonprofit Sector: Do not date other people from the nonprofit sector*. Yes, proximity is powerful, especially when so many of us work ridiculous hours and see each other all the time. But resist the temptations. First, because we deserve a decent car and house and occasional access to organic blueberries, and the chances for those things greatly decrease if we only stick with each other. But more importantly, our work depends on the rest of society understanding and appreciating the role that nonprofit plays, so we have to marry outward. It’s not gold digging, it’s thinking of the children.

Rule 2: No matter how radiant they are, never ask a program officer out who may fund your org. Sure, you may have kickass pickup lines like, “Does RFP stand for ‘Really Fine Person?’ You’re definitely an RFP to me” or “So, you’re a program officer, huh? Well, you better arrest yourself, officer, because you just stole my heart” (#nonprofitpickuplines, go make that trend on Twitter). But, you’ll only come off as creepy, and worse, you will jeopardize funding for your organization.

Rule 3: Hell, don’t date current coworkers, clients, donors, board members, auditors, and volunteers. Past volunteers are OK, but make sure they don’t work for a nonprofit, so you don’t violate the Cardinal Rule. Past coworkers may be OK, but only if they have moved outside the sector. Remember this phrase: “When in doubt, don’t ask ‘em out,” which has served me well and saved me from many, many dates throughout my life. 

Rule 4: Weigh the potential benefits to your organization when choosing whom to go out with. Consider factors such as donation potential, skills that could benefit a committee or project, and whether the person works at company that matches donations or provides event sponsorships.  Remember, you’re not just dating for yourself, you’re also dating to make the world better. Don’t even consider dating someone who won’t likely volunteer at your organization.   

Rule 5: Wait until at least the third date before asking someone to volunteer at your fundraising gala. To do so on the first or second date is ungentlemanly or unladylike. When it is the right time to take your relationship to this level, be respectful, thoughtful, and generous, especially if this is your date’s first time helping out at a gala.

Rule 6: Do not schedule dates on important days at your organizations. Avoid scheduling dates when grants are due, grant reports are due, there’s a board meeting, or it’s the monthly potluck karaoke teambuilding dinner at your ED’s place, since he has spent a lot of time practicing Foreigners’ “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Rule 7: Ensure your date has been trained on racial equity, gender identity, disability, heterosexism, cultural competency, privilege, power, and intersectionality beforelove2 introducing them to your teammates. Don’t even think about inviting them to a team happy hour unless they’ve had time to reflect on their identity and role in undoing the dominant systems of oppression.

Rule 8: Take time for your romantic life. Sure, you’re committed to your work, but find time for yourself and your current or potential relationship. As a colleague puts it, “You are allowed date nights and the occasional missed morning…sheesh!” I agree. Get a romantic life! Sheesh!

Rule 9: Keep your romantic life off social media. Ew! Gross! Who wants to see you holding hands and leaning on each other’s shoulders and stuff?! Gross! Besides, it may decrease the morale of your single coworkers, and we need morale to be high, because the fundraising gala is coming up.

Rule 10: Consider the ramifications to your organization when considering breaking up with someone. If you’ve done a good job, your partner should be well invested in your organization. They’re probably even a donor by now. It is important then to consider the effects this may have on your org if you break up with them. If they don’t give much, then sure, whatever. But if they’ve become a major donor, and especially if they work at a place that has a really strong matching program…are they really all that bad? Come on, no one is perfect.

Send in your thoughts and other rules you think should be added. 

*If you’re thinking, “Oh crap, I am with someone from the nonprofit sector, I’ve violated the Cardinal Rule,” well, calm down. You didn’t know. But now that you do know, there is no other choice: One of you has to quit the sector and become an engineer, doctor, lawyer, business owner, marketing exec, software developer, model, or oil tycoon. That’s the only way you can stay together.


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24 thoughts on “10 rules for dating in the nonprofit sector

  1. Denice Rothman Hinden

    Thanks Vu, lots of wisdom and lots of fun as I celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary this month. I met someone outside the sector 🙂 – another value has been the fun of introducing him to it and the long interesting conversations we have about charity and philanthropy. Rule #11?

  2. Dawn Butterfield

    Oh dear, Vu! I broke the Cardinal Rule 26 years ago, and we’ve been together ever since. As unicorns, we’re not able to be major donors to anything. We live in Vermont, however, and organic blueberries do come our way every late summer, so at least there’s that. Every one of our close friends is “in the sector”, but not all of our relatives, so we have to be really careful to remember Rule #7 at holidays: there have been some really non-unicorn words tossed about as a result of forgetting that caveat!

  3. Karen Staley

    Thanks for the good laugh on a Monday morning! Thankfully I did not break the cardinal rule and sometimes that adds to the fun fights about funding nonprofits to improve society! Good times!!

  4. Rebecca Arno

    Great post — love your blog so much. Though, like Dawn, I broke the Cardinal Rule 25 years ago. He was the volunteer at the front desk when I came in for my job interview, and he ended up getting hired for a “paying” job the same day I was. After taking about a year to figure out he wasn’t gay (it was San Francisco in the late ’80s for god’s sake — he was handsome, clean-cut and so nice) we fell madly in love. And still are. And have the financial statements prove that following the Cardinal Rule is a really good idea if you can help it. (We couldn’t.)

  5. May Leong

    Love your posts. I would add an addendum or exception to Cardinal Rule #1 – it’s OK to be married to someone in the nonprofit sector if both of you got married (to each other) when you were out of the nonprofit sector to begin with. After that, God help you as the couple dedicated to making the world a better place.

  6. Amy Stapleton

    You look smart enough to volunteer to do my 990! #nonprofitpickuplines

    I’ll share my hummus with you any time. #nonprofitpickuplines

    You’re so organized, I bet you could help our accountant finish this audit #nonprofitpickuplines

    1. Vicki Fernandez

      Yesss! “Care to join me for a romantic dinner of leftover sandwiches from our board meeting?” #nonprofitpickuplines

  7. mbutown

    “You enjoy a nice Merlot? Me too. And so do the 250 guests expected at our fundraising gala. Maybe you could donate a couple of cases!” #nonprofitpickuplines

  8. Janet Hamada

    What a fantastic post this is. I particularly like Rule #5: when I first started dating my husband, I was pretty sure that he was the one for me when he agreed to wear the Easter Bunny costume (he’s Jewish) for my organization’s event. Later that year, I was sure he was the one for me when he donned the Turkey costume (tights and all) for our Thanksgiving event. Despite the great entertainment, we made about $500 combined for both events, but I didn’t care because I got a husband out of the deal. Sixteen years later, he’s still my best volunteer. And,even after all these years he still puts up with all my (truly justified) ranting about equity (Rule #7). What a keeper!

    #nonprofitpickuplines: You’re so handsome, you’d look great in a turkey costume. How about next Saturday night?

    1. Rath

      Rule #4 is idiotic, Janet.

      I work 50-60 hour weeks, I don’t have time to volunteer. Don’t even consider dating me because of that, yet I could write a $10,000 check to reduce my tax burden, but don’t date me? That’s just kind of dumb…

  9. Dana Jaehnert

    I did not break Cardinal Rule #1!!! YES!!!! Although I am dating a “caregiving” individual working in hospice. That’s almost like breaking the rule.
    I also have followed Rule #5 perfectly, although my partner did come pick me up from our annual gala last year – and he thought that I looked like I “fit in” & “worked well in engaging” all of the lawyers and high-falooten people I was schmoozing when he came. Although, he isn’t yet volunteering for my org or making donations. I bet I could make an “ask” along with one of those fancy pick-up lines sometime in the future.

    Will you marry me? But remember, we need to use all of our presents from the wedding as in-kind donations for my org…. #nonprofitpickuplines

  10. Nancy Seibel, Keys to Change

    He got a nonprofit do-gooder who can handle computer, smartphone, tablet & web apps – most of the time, anyhow. I got a an IT person with self-awareness, compassion and interpersonal skills – most of the time, anyhow. It’s a great mixed marriage!

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