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Is your nonprofit workplace like George Orwell's 1984?

25 August 2015

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 August 25, 2015
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amazon is evil

Did you read the New York Times story about working at Amazon?

According to the New York Times, at Amazon individual performance is measured continuously, with come-and-go relationships between employers and employees.

Nearly every fundraiser I have known has left or been fired because of bad nonprofit culture and unrealistic expectations.

What’s the deal at Amazon? According to the Guardian, people are being worked to death, with an openly hostile culture and unrealistic expectations, not just in the warehouses, but in the corporate offices.

Maybe they don’t keep ambulances stationed outside to get people who drop from heat exhaustion at the corporate offices, but people who get sick, who have to take care of parents or who get pregnant are dropped, unceremoniously, and told not to come back.

Is your nonprofit workplace like Amazon?

When I worked at a nonprofit with 20 workers, I saw our executive director go through 32 workers in 2 years. There never had to be a reason for her to fire them.

There were 3 people over the 3 years before I got there, and I didn’t last two years there. My boss encouraged me to come in on the weekends to get my extra work done, but not to clock in, so they wouldn’t have to pay the overtime.

I worked until I was sick, bringing in hundreds of thousands more than previous years with grants, events and appeal letters.

When I read this quote below, I was struck by how much it resonated with me about my old nonprofit job.

“I was so addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from.”

-Dina Vaccari worked on projects from corporate gift cards to sales of scientific supplies, 2008 to 2014 (from the New York Times article)

I really did want to be successful at my nonprofit jobs, even as I got sick from overwork and stress. Even as I got into a car accident trying to get everything picked up for the auction. Even as I lived on credit because I couldn’t make it on my nonprofit salary. I was totally addicted to wanting to be successful at fundraising.

My boss didn’t give me a reason for firing me, and according to the at-will environment, she didn’t have to have one. According to my old boss, “everyone is replaceable.”

I know so many women working in fundraising, working long hours, and working at home even after they’ve left work. And the metric of our success?

It’s fundraising dollars, over and over again.

It doesn’t matter what the human cost is. We’ve got to raise this money that we had no say in the budget about.

I’ve known fundraising professionals who are constantly getting texts from their bosses after hours, even on the weekends. I had a boss who wanted to text me constantly, and I would not give him my number. I had to pay for every text he sent me.

I look at the New York Times article about Amazon and I think of us. According to the New York Times expose, a former worker named Bo Olson said, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

crying at my desk

I used to cry at my desk. How about you?

The average nonprofit fundraiser stays only 18 months, with 6 to 12 months becoming the norm, according to Phil Gerard, a fundraising recruiter in Vancouver, BC.

Is this the new kind of nonprofit workplace? Fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum?

In the UK, the Guardian reports that working at Amazon is making their workers mentally and physically ill.

Nearly every fundraiser I have known has gotten sick from working too much.

According to the New York Times, Liz Pearce spent two years at Amazon, managing projects like its wedding registry. “The pressure to deliver far surpasses any other metric,” she said. “I would see people practically combust.”

amazon is evil

But just as Jeff Bezos was able to see the future of e-commerce before anyone else, she added, he was able to envision a new kind of workplace: fluid but tough, with employees staying only a short time and employers demanding the maximum.

So, what if our donors found out how we’re treating our nonprofit workers?

What if they found out that we have unreasonable fundraising expectations for our workers?

What if they found out about our terrible staff retention rate?

What if our donors found out how harshly we drive our workers to achieve ever higher fundraising results?

Would the donors realize that our caring image is just a façade?

What if they knew how often we worked 60-70-80 hours a week at our “make the world” a better place job, and slept all weekend because we had to recover?

What if they knew we didn’t have time for hobbies?

Would our donors boycott us the way we’re boycotting Amazon?

What if we looked at the hypocrisy of wanting to make the world a better place, but not starting with our nonprofit workers, first?

Maybe it’s time to remember Thomas Merton’s words of wisdom:

the frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace -Thomas Merton

Thank you Sheena Greer of Colludo.ca for this incredible quote and concept!

Learn more about getting boundaries at work with our next Fundraising Career Conference April 2016

Here’s more on what you can do right now if your work is taking over your life:

Are you abandoning yourself for your job?

Is there a lot of dead wood in your office?

Why is your fundraising job so overwhelming?

13 things HR won’t tell you about your fundraising job

Women and Workaholism in your fundraising office

Incredible Crisis! Again!

Why is self care for fundraisers so important?

Having trouble holding onto your fundraising staff? Here’s why.

When you’re feeling demotivated in fundraising

How to take back your power at work

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