Non-profit is not only rewarding, it can also be delightfully odd. One of our computer programs represents donors as a penguins sitting on a melting block of ice. When they stop giving, the ice melts and they fall into the water. Here’s a list of my weird experiences in non-profit.
- We use some strange jargon. Our database labels some donors “recaptured,” like they’ve escaped from the zoo.
- One of our constituents, people/organizations, in that database is a whale. My boss sent in a donation in honor of “J2 ‘Granny’ Matriarch of J Pod’ and all honor/memorials have to be constituents (don’t ask me why) so….
- A guy came in off the street and took our newspaper, flinging 75 cents on the counter as he ran out the door. This meant I didn’t get to read the funnies.
- During a chamber of commerce meeting, I heard one political candidate say to his aide “any mic time is good mic time.” This is depressingly true.
- Snaffling up the left over candy after the Christmas party. Is that caramel? Why yes it is.
I’m grateful for these experiences. The make me look up from my computer, scratch my head, and smile.
When I talk to people about my work, I tell them that I write grants, manage social media, and wrestle the database into submission. I do this because, first, it’s my attempt at a joke, and second, because it’s accurate. My organization is switching over to a new database, which I’ve had to master from scratch. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
- The two worst things customer support can say are “That’s strange” and, after you’ve been talking for a half hour, “We’ll have to make an appointment.”
- Leave yourself plenty of time. That 600 constituent import will take even longer than you think it will.
- Imports as a whole are finicky. When I did the instruction sheet for my bosses, I was tempted to write “pray to your maker.”
- Be stubborn. It took customer service and I six different tries to add all the new people and relationships to the database. But, by God, we did it in the end.
- Wander around. Discover all the weird little functions you never knew existed.
Lastly, double check your work. You do not want to add in those 600 constituents and discover they’re all duplicates.
The new administration plans to cancel funding for AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps has given me the chance to use my degree, learn new skills, and taste fabulous caramel ice cream at orientation. (Guess which was most important). Here are three reasons to fund AmeriCorps.
- It fights poverty. I volunteer at an organization that assists people with disabilities to find meaningful work. These people not only have to overcome their individual disabilities, but the stigma that comes with having them.
- It encourages diversity. In the town where I grew up, most everyone was rich and white. In elementary school, my sister thought that lawyer and doctor were very common careers because so many kids’ parents had them. The world isn’t this homogenous. AmeriCorps gave me the chance to meet people that, surprise, weren’t exactly like me.
- It enables young people to find work. Employers want experience, but you can’t get experience unless you’ve had a job. This irony is why almost 40% of young people (ages 22, 23, and 24) get financial help from our parents. AmeriCorps gets our feet in the workplace door.
AmeriCorps isn’t an expense. It’s an investment—one the new administration should make.
I’ve worked in non-profit for six months and it’s been fascinating. For instance, we have our own hilariously bad jargon i.e. calling those who haven’t given in years “lapsed donors.” Here is a list of things you experience in the non-profit world.
- You’re passionate—the type of passion that makes you re-write your letter of inquiry five times.
- Your office building is jettisoning nails and plaster.
- You want to make a difference in the lives of those you serve and empower the community. And you need to find a way to say that which isn’t mind numbingly boring.
- Your co-workers have big dreams. One of mine plans to start a half-way house for recent prisoners. Another wants to build a “free-range” playground. It sounds like free range chicken, but it’s a place for open play where kids can go get dirty like they did in the days before cell phones.
- You know overhead costs are important. You can’t run your programs if you can’t keep the lights on or pay your staff.
Tip: If you can’t get the building fixed, don’t park in the spot below where the nails are falling. My boss did this and one punctured her tire.
My company recently finished off our big event of the year, Morningside Ride. It involved a scavenger hunt, brunch, and a million different bits of paper. The excel spreadsheets alone nearly drowned me. Here is a list of things I learned about events.
- Something will go wrong. Events have enough details that it’s impossible not to mess up at least one of them. One of the clues on our scavenger hunt disappeared and my boss stayed in the office until 10pm, printing sheets that said don’t look for clue twenty-two.
- The paperwork multiplies like tumbleweed in the Twilight Zone until your entire desk is nothing but program sheets and schedules.
- Never use mail chimp to send an event survey. You’ll spend four hours re-formatting, only to find that it just lets you write one question. Use Survey Monkey instead.
- Don’t throw everything out immediately; sort it first. If you don’t, you could end up digging through the recycling three times in search of that one tiny, white receipt.
- Support your co-workers. My boss brought us coffee and donuts the morning of the event. It was a thoughtful gesture that prevented me from falling asleep on the registration table.
I survived my event and so can you. Just keep your head above the spreadsheets.