Most of us who work at small nonprofits would be lucky to have an HR person. When I worked at a small nonprofit, we had HR people on the board, but no one on staff to manage the human resources aspects of our nonprofit.
So people made do. They talked with the board member. They talked with each other. No one followed the employee handbook, and no one, it appeared, had ever even read it. Hiring was conducted by managers. Firing, conducted by managers. No oversight there either.
If you do have an HR person or two at your nonprofit, here are some things they are not going to tell you. These may not be part of the OFFICIAL HR policies, but they sure are part of the UNOFFICIAL HR policies.
1. You might be the fall guy. Your boss can tell you to get the board members to fundraise. When the board members get tired of your nagging, they can tell the boss to fire you. And then you get fired, and it’s not your fault. Your boss used you as the fall guy.
2. You might be fighting a losing battle. Your nonprofit needs a culture of philanthropy, where everyone is encouraged to fundraise. If this is not how things are at your nonprofit, then you are fighting a losing battle from day one. ONE person fundraising cannot lift a whole agency. But several people working on getting streams of income in multiple ways CAN.
3. You are not the exception to the rule. If you are the fourth person to hold this role in five years, don’t count on being the exception to the rule when it comes to longevity. You will either leave or get fired in about 12 months, because with that much turnover, the fact is, it’s about their mismanagement, not your capabilities.
4. Workaholic environments breed punishment mentality and resentment. If everyone is in crisis mode all of the time, and you are not, there will be a certain amount of resentment if you leave at 5pm. People will want to punish you. People have survived at this nonprofit by becoming workaholics. Which is bad for everyone. You don’t get paid any more for working longer hours (everyone is salaried) but you’re supposed to stay and do it for some reason. If you don’t adopt a workaholic mindset also, your days at your nonprofit could be numbered.
5. Unemployment can work for you. If you do get fired, you will most likely be able to get unemployment. This unemployment should last for 6 months. This is a good time for you to figure out the right fit for the next job.
6. Any fundraiser worth their salt has been fired. So don’t look at it as a bad thing if you have. You have to be able to say no. You have to be able to say what is and isn’t realistic to fundraise. And most bosses don’t want to hear that. Getting fired may not even be your fault. I knew a nonprofit leader who fired over 30 people in a 22 person agency in 2 years. Obviously, it was not about the people being the wrong fit, it was about this boss.
7. Your permanent record doesn’t exist. If you get fired, chances are anyone who remembers you may be onto their next job in 2 or 3 years. You want to cultivate relationships with colleagues if you need a reference. Don’t worry about your boss.
8. Your boss will try to take credit for your work. Let them. It’s not worth it making waves. But back up everything that you do with as much proof as you can, in case you need to prove what you did at the next job interview.
9. You have no protections from unjust firing. Your state is an at-will state. You can be fired at any time, for no reason at all. Doing a good job, or even an exceptional job, is not good enough to keep you from getting fired. Which is why you should always be looking.
10. Even if you do an incredible job, don’t depend on getting a bonus or a raise. Chances are, you won’t get them. If you are in a union shop, then you may get a cost of living wage incremental increase, IF wages haven’t been frozen. If you want to make more money, Go Get A Better Job Somewhere Else.
11. We are all looking for jobs. Even HR. So if you look for jobs and feel guilty, don’t. At-will employment means you owe no allegiance to your employer, as they would not hesitate to fire you on a whim.
12. It is your responsibility to ask good questions in the interview, to make sure you know what you’re walking into. Here are some good questions to get you started.
If you don’t ask these questions, don’t act surprised when things go pear-shaped. We can’t protect you.
13. HR cannot protect you from sexual harassment or verbal intimidation. It’s sad but true. We don’t care about you. We see humans as interchangeable. That’s why it’s called “human resources.” We think everyone is replaceable. We are paid by your boss, not you, to look out for your boss’s best interests. So if you are being harassed by a staff or board member, you’d be better off calling the police than calling us. We’re going to try to smooth things over to protect the reputation of the agency.
Anything else you’d like to add about HR and nonprofits?