Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nonprofit - Dream vs. Reality

I forget sometimes. I forget that I don't work for angels and wood spirits. I work for people. And people behave as people.

Sometimes, I get caught up in the dream. I believe that we're all working for a common good, for the sake of making the world a better place.

I believe them when they say they want us all to be players on the same team. That the most important thing is that we all support each other and work towards the same common goal.

I mean, I work for a nonprofit. We're supposed to be about the mission, right?

And then it happens. Something comes down from on high, and I remember that I work for a boss. For a CEO. Someone whose driving purpose is making sure we all remember who's in charge.

So we'll all get lectured at the all-staff meeting about something that seems small, but apparently was earth-shaking in its importance. We'll all get scolded for forgetting about the mission - but in fact, it's because we forgot to honor the boss' whims. We didn't genuflect with appropriate humility.

Or we'll all be looking forward to a staff event - a party, a celebration, an outing - only to find out it's been cancelled because the CEO said so. Because we didn't appear to be taking our work seriously enough.

It's very much in the pattern of an abusive relationship, I would imagine. (I'm fortunate that I've never truly been in one.) We're constantly being kept off-balance. So the end result is that we're never actually working for the mission. We're working for the CEO. Our job is honoring the boss' wishes, no matter how unusual or offbase they seem. The boss likes meetings a certain way. The boss wants to be addressed in this way. The boss wants visitors to talk about this, not talk about that.Don't upset the boss. Don't rattle the cage.

And never, ever question the boss. Don't ever challenge our decisions, our campaigns, our mission (e.g. the boss' way of carrying out the mission.) That would be disloyal.

Look. Our job in the nonprofit world is rattling cages. We are supposed to be changing the status quo. If we're constantly worried about not upsetting the boss, how are we ever supposed to focus on upsetting the power brokers and decision makers?

And that's when the disappointment hits.

I want to work for a mission, not a petty tyrant. I want my work to be fighting for the afflicted and the poor, not fighting for my job. I'm tired of working for a boss more interested in their reputation and glorification than in actually making change.