When my mom got remarried a couple years ago, our entire family flew in from around the country. My grama had to come down to Washington, DC all the way from Ohio, and as usual, she created the most drama out of everyone in the wedding. Grama goes to the salon every time there’s a special occasion, but she is never satisfied with how the hairdresser styles her hair. She never likes it, no matter who coifs her unruly mane. She blames each of the unfortunate hairdressers who ruin her ‘do, demanding her money back in a huff after each fiasco. A few months later, she goes through the process all over with a different stylist, but the same outcome. It’s a pattern that characterizes every family event that involves my grandmother. Her haircare is never right, and it’s always the stylist that gets the blame for doing it wrong.

Have you noticed a similar pattern in your nonprofit jobs? I’ve met many young professionals in my last few years of speaking to groups that complain about their horrible nonprofit jobs, low salaries, and evil bosses. Particularly in DC, I saw high turnover in my fellow development directors and others who stay at a job for six months or so, then move on to another job because the organization didn’t “treat them right”. I see these same people going through the revolving door of several different nonprofit organizations, never finding the right fit for their professional needs. I keep wondering if they realize at some point that maybe it’s not the nonprofit who has the issues.

Maybe it’s them.

If you’re in a bad nonprofit job right now, I encourage you to think about some ways that you might be contributing to the negative situation. Then, think of ways you might change it. You might be surprised to find that the solution doesn’t always have to be to leave the organization.

Get Rid of the “Woe is Me” Attitude
Look, nobody likes a whiner. If all you do is talk about the problems you have at work, no one will want to listen to you or help you in your plight. We all know that working in a nonprofit is not easy. You may be overworked, but you don’t have to complain about it to everyone who asks you how you’re doing. Chances are, if you’re feeling the negative vibes, everyone else is, too. Break out your smile and ask your co-workers how they’re doing, how you can help each other. When you radiate positive energy, it tends to spread to others around you.

Negotiate the Salary You Need
Whose fault is it really, that you make a salary that’s too low? You were the one that accepted it, so the blame rests with you. To avoid being miserable, you have to ask for the salary you want when you come in, which should be a number higher than what you need to buy food and pay rent. I know people who have calculated their bare bones needs just to get by and told the hiring manager they could live off of $32,000 a year. I did it myself—in my first full-time nonprofit job I made $27,000 a year. I had to take out loans and get a part-time job as a hostess at a chain restaurant just to pay my rent, feed myself and go to a concert once in a blue moon. But I learned my lesson real quick. What did I think I was, a proverbial Wal-Mart? You are not discount talent, so don’t short yourself when it comes to salary negotiations. You should have enough to live, pay taxes, and make room for whatever makes you happy.

Don’t Let Your Boss Tell You What to Do
Sometimes young professionals get frustrated with outdated and inefficient processes at their organizations. The computers are too slow, the programs aren’t impacting enough kids, the fundraising process doesn’t bring in new donors, Your boss is sitting there telling you what to do, and you just obey, when you just know there is a better way to do the work. Yet you keep your mouth shut when it comes time for you to speak up about how it should be done differently. Nonprofits are just like any other organization that should benefit from the fresh ideas of its staff. But how would your boss know that you have a brilliant solution to a problem facing the organization unless you tell her? Don’t wait to be asked for your opinion. Raise your voice in meetings and be ready and willing to implement your ideas. In the end, everyone wins—you get to practice leadership, and the nonprofit gets better at what it does for the people they serve.

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