Where This All Started
There are a number of reasons why I left a full time job at the end of 2018 to begin this work. I have been in the nonprofit sector for over a decade and despite my love for the people, the passion, and the work that comes out of it, there is deep dysfunction that runs through it. For years I’ve been watching this dysfunction, talking to family and friends about how to manage it, and I decided I wanted to change it.
I was listening to a podcast the other day (that’s a phrase that will probably come up a lot here) and the hosts talked about how they, and many other women they know, also hit walls in recent years and quit their jobs in an effort to build something better and new. I have especially found that my generation of nonprofit leaders (those most beloved Millennials) watched the generation before them sacrifice so much for the mission: personal lives, boundaries, economic stability, and mental health, all given up in the name of the clients the work was being done for. But for all their good intentions, such sacrifices come at a cost. They lead to burnout, breed distrust and create an entire ecosystem that cannot work well. And we all saw our bosses perpetuate this chaotic spiral and decided there has to be another way.
Of course, the systems that created this dysfunction are layered and each have their own kinds of dysfunction: the dynamics between the organizations who need funding and the people who have the money, the limitations given around those funds, the sheer number of people who need help in the world, the myriad reasons why. Unfortunately, you can’t decide to fix one piece without considering the others. They are all interconnected - you have to work simultaneously within and against them.
And yet I cannot stop myself from believing that we can change this broken system. Isn’t nonprofit work at it’s core working within and against systems of inequity? This can’t be the only option. But changing will take radical, hard work. We need to create transparency, remove hierarchies, have honest conversations about money and inequity, and, you know, destroy the patriarchy (some of these things are easier than others).
Which leads us back to where I started - quitting my job at the end of December. But before we get there, a quick note. I had worked in nonprofits for a decade already, but this was my first purely administrative/operations-based job. And I loved it. For many years I had described that I like doing work that’s like a puzzle - you take a pile of chaos, then build a structure around it and slowly but surely create order. And for the first time this job let me do that full time, instead of it being a side benefit to another role. It was a revelation. But it also made me want to help other leaders think through how to better manage and lead their organizations. And now I want to talk about all of these things - where the system is broken, how change can happen, what it looks like trying to put these ideas into practice, and what it’s like to try to build something from scratch.
Let’s do this.