My Aching Head

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 5th, 2008 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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 Man banging head


My doctor says I need to ease up on the head banging.  I’d actually let up a little until I received a response to my recently published Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed.  The commentary suggested that those laid off from for-profit jobs should look to the nonprofit sector for satisfying employment:  their skills and talents are needed and will be valued and they can feel good while doing good.  The responses to this piece was phenomenal and all extremely positive, with many saying, “Thank you!” or “You were talking to me!” Until yesterday.  Yesterday’s response was a lengthy e-mail from a man who had made the switch from the for-profit world to the nonprofit years ago.  And he wasn’t happy.  He suggested that nonprofit folks talk out of both sides of their mouths.  They say, “We value your skill sets and perspective and they are important to us,” but then they ignore the recommendations and observations that result from those very things that are allegedly valued.  This generated only a little head banging:  why would we seek out specific talents and then ignore them?  It just doesn’t make good sense—business sense or any other kind of sense. But what really got my head aching was his comment that when he tried to go back to the corporate world, he was categorically rejected because of his years spent in the nonprofit sector.  Why, he was asked, was he qualified to work in the for-profit sector when his most recent years of employment were with organizations “structured to lose money?”  BANG!  BANG!  BANG!  Are people really that stupid?  Are there people out there who honestly believe that nonprofits are structured to lose money?  Are there really people out there who believe that nonprofits want to run a deficit, that they enjoy living close to the edge, having no cushion?  Are there people out there who really think it is fun not to sleep at night?   I understand the value of language, and there is no doubt that our name—the nonprofit sector—does not help us.  But, then again, we aren’t called the deficit sector.  Our name suggests that we are covering our costs but have nothing left to go around at the end of the day.  And since when does a category name determine the performance of all members of that category?  It is a statement of fact that AIG is in big trouble.  But is the entire insurance sector?  Banking is in trouble, as well.  But the small, well-run banks are “banking” on earning new customers from the struggling large, previously for-profit conglomerate banks.   I thought that to run a good business you had to be smart, do research, know the facts, and make decisions based on hard data and an understanding of the real picture, and not rely on stereotypes or presumptions.  At least that is how we run smart businesses in the nonprofit sector.    

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