You Know You Work for a Nonprofit When...

Organizational Management November 01, 2017

Terry Ibele

By Terry Ibele

Who would be willing to work with miniscule budgets, limited staff, ridiculous deadlines, pressure from the Board (not to mention donors), and jammed copy machines that only print every other page correctly… all while trying to save the world?

If you're a nonprofit person, you’ll likely relate to one or more of these 23 classic situations.


You Know You Work for a Nonprofit When...


1) Your friends wonder if your organization’s mission, vision and goals are tattooed behind your eyes because that elevator pitch is silky smooth.

But you give out your business cards sparingly, because you’re not sure if you can approve the budget for another print.


2) Your ED slips in a casual reminder on payday that life’s “true payment” is the knowledge you’ve helped someone breathe a little easier.

So moving, so inspirational… but what’s the minimum wage again?


3) You could win an Oscar for best actress when someone donates something useless to your organization.

“Yes, this six foot mural of a dog with the cast of Cheers is exactly what we needed. Thank you for your donation!”


4) People are still talking about that one time the ED bought lunch for everyone in the office… three years back.

It’s become legend among staff.

Read More: Three Things I Wish I Knew as a New Executive Director

5) You have “good paper” you don’t use for everyday printing.

Heck, you’ll print on paper from the recycling bin before using the good stuff!


6) Your organization’s office is up six flights of stairs, down the winding hallway, and tucked in the back corner of a room shared by three other organizations and a cat rescue.

“Here’s my phone number. Text me if you get lost on the way.”


7) The only time you’re on Facebook is when you’re trying to get donations from your friends.

“Hey guys, me again with another fundraiser...”


8) You don’t understand why your for-profit friends think putting plastic forks in the dishwasher is gross. 

Hey, those have only been used twice!

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9) Your budget is so tight you’ve become the office plumber, electrician, janitor and photocopier-fixer by necessity.

Maybe you could have a second career in a trade?


10) Every meeting could have been an email.

Seriously. Every. Single. One.


11) You’re on a committee that manages committees. 

Note to self: We’re going to need a committee to identify who manages the committee management committee.


12) You fear throwing out any supply, because what if you need it in the future and your organization isn’t in the financial position to buy a new one? 

Floppy disks will make a comeback and when they do, you will be the most financially savvy little hoarder your org’s ever seen!


13) The plan of action reached at the end of the committee meeting was exactly what you proposed at the very beginning of the committee meeting.

Well there’s an hour nobody’s getting back…


14) Your family doesn’t understand why you keep referring to the fiscal year. 

“Mommy will be prepared to take your request under advisement at the start of next fiscal year. For now, there will be no new toys acquired. Thank you for your understanding and I look forward to a continued conversation on the matter.”


15) Your youngest sibling is already making $20k more than you in their entry level position, even though you’ve been working for 6 years.

Mom and dad sure don’t let you forget it at Thanksgiving either.

Read More: 24 Things I Wish I Knew Before Entering the Nonprofit World


16) Every one of your board members thinks they’ve got the next best fundraising idea.

“Gee thanks, Susan. Social media engagement! Twitter! How have we never thought of that before?! We will be sure to try it!”


17) You spend 10 hours on a 10 page grant application for $500.

Screams into void: This is totally worth it. Repeat. This is totally worth it. Repeat…


18) You have to navigate a labyrinth of supply codes and secure three director signatures to place a $35 order.

We all know you can go a little crazy on staples. These checks and balances are necessary.

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19) You’re walking on sunshine after a board member remembers your name and/or position. 

You know you’ve truly made it when they remember both.  


20) The only time events are catered are when board members attend... and staff eat last.

You definitely wanted the cold, anchovy panini and dregs of the decaf pot, right? 


21) You've got a deep dive scheduled to move the needle on a soft ask which will disrupt the paradigm of sustainable stakeholder innovation programs.

Are we still speaking English? 


22) You’ve mastered how to not look like you’re slowly dying inside when you’ve spent the last two weeks working on a project non-stop and the board decides to move in a “different direction.”

It’s all in the eyes. 


23) You read through this whole list just for the comfort of knowing other people are right here on the struggle bus with you!

The nonprofit life ain’t easy, but the work is so worth it.


So, Why Do You Work for a Nonprofit?

Even in the trenches of harrowing fundraising seasons and (daily) moments of mind-boggling organizational dysfunction, you are making a difference in a variety of spheres and lives of people across the world. 

You could be using your diverse skill set and relentless work ethic in any more lucrative field, but you choose to give of yourself to help others and in turn create avenues for others to give. For that, we thank you. 

Rock on, nonprofit heroes!


Helpful Nonprofit Resources:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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