When I was in college, I worked three jobs to support myself. I worked in a library, at a hotel, and in a few restaurants. I loved the restaurant business because I got to be around food all the time and talk to people when they are most happy: drinking and stuffing their faces. One of the main concepts you learn during orientation to work at a restaurant is the difference between ‘front of the house’ and ‘back of the house’. Front of the house restaurant staff are the managers, the hosts & hostesses, bartenders and the servers. Back of the house included all the kitchen staff - the cooks, prep staff, and dishwashers. Basically, front of the house staff represent the ‘face’ of the restaurant, while most customers never see the back of the house employees.
This concept is also true for the nonprofit sector. Most organizations are mainly represented by the Executive Director and/or the senior management team. The program and administrative staff are the ones making the organization’s impact on a daily basis, but the quotes in the news and the faces on the screen are that of the front of the house nonprofit staff. The higher salaries are also going to the front of the house.
But that’s often the dilemma for young nonprofit professionals who want to be close to the organization’s work on a daily basis: feeding the homeless, tutoring the kids, providing the counseling or training. Those program positions usually don’t pay the bills, so we are compelled to move closer to the front of the house to increase our salary. Many would say that being back of the house is more fulfilling, but front of the house is more financially rewarded.
What do you think? Is it better to work in the front of the house?
Rosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color working and living in the Washington, DC area. She holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and blogs about nonprofit leadership and management issues at Perspectives From the Pipeline.