picture by Other andrew on flickr

picture by Other andrew on flickr

Have you ever read a nonprofit job description that included the words, “Passion for the mission”?

Did it seem like the people writing the job description were just following some sort of rote nonprofit HR description, without ever bothering to think?

I remember my first nonprofit internship, where I told the person I interviewed with that I really wanted to “make a difference” and she actually winced. Because that phrase is so hackneyed, she must have heard it thousands of times. It had lost its meaning.

“Passion for the mission is a must” has lost its meaning.

Idealist.org, Craigslist.org and Indeed.com are FULL of descriptions like this.

Here’s what gets me. For people who are passionate about their craft, and not a specific mission, there’s no place for them.

Let’s say you really love writing. And learning about fundraising. And helping nonprofits.

But you don’t have a passion for, say, the environment.

But you’re still a good researcher. And in fact, a pretty good writer. You can write persuasively about any number of topics, even without having “a lifelong passion” for it.

What if you can do this, but the nonprofit is looking for someone who lives and breathes their mission?

The job is perfect for you, in every way, but you aren’t particularly passionate about the service area.

You have to lie, if you want the job.

It strikes me, in other job descriptions that I see online, that nonprofits are not the only ones asking for passion.

But they ARE the only ones asking you for passion for a very specific thing, rather than a passion to improve yourself and your skills.

Why would they place such an emphasis on the passion for the mission?

Because you are easier to manipulate.

That’s right. I said it.

You are so wrapped up in the importance of the cause that of COURSE you’ll do unpaid overtime, like I did, or work yourself until you’re sick, like I did, or recruit friends and family to support the cause, like I did.

In fundraising you’re not going to get a bonus, no matter how much you raise.

You’re not going to get a corner office.

You’re not going to get a greater say in how the organization is run.

You’re not going to have to work less hours.

They’ll just expect more from you the next year. You hit your targets, then they ask for more.

You may get more volunteers, or even a staff person to supervise, but you’re not necessarily going to get ahead in life by giving your all to your job.

So, “passion for the mission” serves to move you from point A to point B, without them really having to boss you very much.


The job descriptions here talk about passion, sure, but passion for the craft of programming. It’s a skill. It can be learned. They hope you care about the company but they prefer you care about improving your personal expertise in your field.

Fundraising is a skill. It can be learned. It’s a job. Sure, it’s a job that comes with certain fringe benefits, like feeling that you touched a lot of lives by raising money, but it is still just a job.

If you’re persuading people to care about the cause, you can visit program sites, research the cause and come up with lots of reasons for donors to care. Or better yet, ask donors why they care. Listen. Listening, researching, and asking questions don’t take passion. They take patience.

Yep, fundraising is a job. We need to treat it like a job and a career with a path that you can move up on, set clear professional goals, and have the support to achieve those goals.

It’s a job that needs to compensate you enough to pay for school. To pay your bills. To save for retirement.

When nonprofits ask you to feel the passion of their mission, over your own self interest, and moreover, to feel it strongly for every job you apply for, it’s intellectual and emotional whoring.

It’s whoring your ideals and dreams, by pretending that the mission is more important than your own well being.

Of course it isn’t! What kind of a culture are our nonprofits propagating where they say they want to create a better world for everyone, yet most people under the CEO/ED level don’t make enough to save, and live paycheck to paycheck?

That shouldn’t matter, I hear you saying. That shouldn’t matter if you REALLY care about the cause.

Let me tell you something. I really did care about a cause. And it didn’t do me any good. When I came out of that organization I was no better off, financially, than when I started. A job is supposed to help you be better off, financially. It’s supposed to help give you stability and security. It’s supposed to lead somewhere, not a series of dead ends.

I would love to see a job description that simply says, “We need someone who is excellent at fundraising. Someone who never wants to stop learning. And who wants to learn more about our cause.” That is enough. Asking someone to do somersaults with joy for your mission is asking for a pipe dream.

Eventually, the person wakes up from the dream and realizes the cause will go on, but they’ve wasted years working for peanuts, they’re tired, they’re burnt out, and they gave their all for nothing. Where do they go now? The cause is still there. They never rose in the field. And now they have no savings.

Let’s end this “passion for the mission is a must” crap and start treating fundraising like a real field with jobs based on skills, not on something nebulous that makes it easier to manipulate you.

What do you think?

Have you ever had passion for a mission in a nonprofit that didn’t value you?

Did it matter, in the end, how well you did your job?