Nonprofit Work Culture’s “False Economy”

“Despite being in the business of supporting people, charities can suffer from seeing staff as costs, believing the less you spend on them, the better. It’s a terrible false economy.  Many workplaces seem to go about making everyone as stressed as possible and then it’s just a matter of which one snaps first.”

Quote from this article that succinctly sums up the “false economy” many nonprofits perpetuate. I’ve been an employee, intern, or volunteer at over a dozen NGOs in the past ten years. From organizations that pride themselves in a “zero-overhead” model by requiring all full-time staff to raise support indefinitely, to the unspoken right of passage in this field–pushing yourself to the point of breakdown, to the painful reality of an extremely small team with limited resources being responsible for enormous workloads, to the secrecy and shame surrounding people exiting the field or making a choice prioritizing their personal wellness, to being expected to work unpaid (or slightly above it) to get the experience needed to be gainfully employed… I’ve experienced this false economy and its effects. There are dozens of articles and blogs addressing these topics (such as the uproar surrounding the unpaid UN intern living in a tent) and the bubble is bound to pop someday.

If you work in such a culture, how do you cope? Relying on prioritizing self-care or encouraging your organization/leadership to make staff care a priority? Smart organizations shift from seeing staff as costs to valuing them as assets and investing in them as such. It’s more sustainable and will inarguably create a culture and workforce that produces better work, longer.


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