Give and Tke the book
Do you work in a silo?

Do you not really know your co-workers?

Are your staff meetings just interminable?

Are you wondering how to get more support in your nonprofit work environment, but unsure of who to ask for help? Or do you feel like even if you ask, no one will help?

Are you dreading going to work on the days you know you have to meet with your boss?

If you answered yes to two or more or these questions, you MIGHT have a toxic work environment.

What can you do to turn things around at work?

You’re only one person, right? You’re not the boss.

But there’s stuff you can do. These tips come directly from the book, Give and Take, by Adam Grant,

1. Start a reciprocity circle.

What does that mean?

Every week people come together and ask for a favor from someone there. That might mean, “Could you pick up some more tea for the breakroom?” To, “Could you photocopy some flyers for our next outreach event?” to “Could you come and help clean the shelter on cleaning day?” or “My brother is looking for a job, does anyone know anyone who is hiring right now?”

Why would you do this?

Because when we do favors for other people, we tend to like them more, instead of when they do us favors. Why does this work this way? Because you did them a favor, Q.E.D., you must like them. It introduces cognitive dissonance to suggest that you did something nice for someone you didn’t like.

So if people at your work don’t like each other, if program folks and fundraising folks are off in their silos and think the other isn’t pulling their weight, well, this is a way out of that situation.

The other issue we have as nonprofit staff, which people don’t like to talk about, is that we are often martyr-types. We do a lot and expect people to thank us, (though we would never ask for thanks!) and expect that if we just work hard enough we’ll be promoted. (Not likely!)

Another way out of the toxic work environment

2. Help people craft their jobs

What does this mean?

If you’re a nonprofit leader, this is easiest to do, but even if you’re a development person looking to craft relationships with other staff, you can try this.

It means you sit down with someone and you ask them what they really like to do. Ask them if they’ve got any ideas for their job that they have thought about implementing. Ask them what they like about their job. You ask them which tasks they’d rather not do, or which tasks they’d prefer to pass off to someone else. Then you come up with a plan for how they could do more of what they love at their job, and less of what they hate.

Why would you do this?

Because often we are asked to do tasks that we would really rather not do, or because someone else has left and they haven’t hired anyone new, or because they have decided not to hire and so now you’re juggling 2, 3 or 4 people’s jobs. So we can’t be good at everything, and if we’ve got more work than we can reasonably do in a 40 or 50 hour workweek, we’re going to be falling behind all of the time and feel like we just can’t keep up with what work expectations are.

So fundraisers are often asked to:

  • Coordinate fundraising events
  • Send out appeals
  • Write appeals
  • Research grants
  • Write grants
  • Schedule meetings for their boss
  • Go to outreach events and cultivate new donors
  • Do speaking engagements for the nonprofit
  • Make a fundraising plan

and more, and all of this with little to no training. And of course, no training budget, right?

So which tasks are you responsible for? Make a big list.

Which ones do you LIKE to do? Check those off.

Which ones would you like to pass off? Make a new list with those tasks.

Could a volunteer do some of this? Could you get a virtual assistant to help you?

Here’s a resource on Job Crafting if you want more about this.

3. Master the 5 minute Favor

What does this mean?

A 5 minute favor is what it sounds like. What could you do in 5 minutes to help someone else? You could give them feedback, you could make an introduction. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken with in years. Ask them what they’re working on and ask how you can be helpful.

How would you do this?

Try starting this simply by offering honest feedback or giving an introduction. That’s an easy way to start the 5 minute favor.

If people at work are not down with you asking for favors, maybe you can look at your LinkedIn connections and get the ball rolling by connecting people there.


To take this further, you could create a group of people that meet once a month or so.

At this meeting, invite people that work in different fields, but who want to work in nonprofits. Also invite people who currently work at nonprofits. The entire meeting could be about socializing and learning from each other. You could exchange ideas and information informally.  Each of these people can offer a 5 minute favor to someone else, to connect them with a cause or group that they could take the next step in their career with. Maybe if fundraising people go to this meeting, people who currently work at big companies can introduce them to the volunteering team.


How about you? Have you created a reciprocity circle at work? Have you worked on job crafting? What were the results, if so?

Here are some more posts you might like:

How to recover from a toxic workplace

Are you criticized for your fashion?

18 ways to demand dignity at work