And I’m Worth It

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on August 21st, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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I run a business.  It is a business that is designed to help nonprofits.  So, our product is help.  That’s how we earn our living, pay our bills.  But why do people think that we should give that product away for free?  If my business were manufacturing sneakers, my phone would not ring off the hook with requests that I give away free sneakers.  I would not be contacted by people three blocks away saying they are starting a sneaker factory and would I please tell them how to do it because even though they’re about to open a sneaker factory, they have no idea how to do it.  They are not, after all, experts at starting or running a sneaker factor which, presumably, I am.  So, someone suggested that they call me, the sneaker factory guru, with the full expectation that I would share my trade secrets with my competition—the very secrets that make people want to buy my sneakers. 

What for-profit would do that? And yet this happens all of the time in the nonprofit sectorI get calls from people who have been put in positions for which they are not qualified—nice people, passionate about the mission of their organization, but totally ill-equipped to do the job at hand—asking me to help them be able to do their jobs.  They aren’t contracting for a consulting project.  They are expecting free instruction on how to do their jobs.  They are calling me because they know The Nonprofit Center knows how to do their job.  And they all think we should be happy to help them out—for free.  And the reality is that we usually do.   

But no more! Asking for free help and guidance on how to do a job that otherwise the organization would have to hire someone—oh, say The Nonprofit Center—to do is not collaboration.   It is being cheap and it is devaluing expertise.  If a staff member doesn’t have the ability to do the job assigned, there are several options:  rethink the job assignment; rethink the task at hand; or hire an outside expert to either teach the staff member how to do the job or to do the job itself.  But do not expect that businesses are going to give you for free what you are too cheap to develop internally or pay to bring inside. Recognize that no one can be an expert in all things.  So, value the skills and talents of the staff you have; when staff are lacking, develop the staff you have in legitimate ways.  Do not go asking other nonprofit businesses to give their product away for free so that you can claim it as your own.  We’re worth more than that.  

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.