Confessions of a Charlotte nonprofit professional

Confessions of a Charlotte nonprofit professional
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Note: Love confessions? Here’s the entire confessions series collection. If you’d like to participate, please email hi@charlotteagenda.com. We promise to keep you anonymous.


Charlotte has a lot of nonprofits, each one helping our city in their own way. But as you can imagine, a lot goes on behind the scenes at these nonprofits. Here are one nonprofit professional’s confessions about low salaries, nonprofit spies and being interviewed by federal agents.

What’s the best part about your job? The worst?

The best part really is making a difference in the life of someone who needs it. If I get to see a client experience something new or have a happy ending because of something I’ve done, it refuels me for weeks.

The worst part is the inability to serve everyone who needs you or having to say no because of lack of resources. There will always be more people who need a house or food or education than you can possibly serve. On a lot of days, the losses outweigh the wins.

Is there competition between nonprofits? Do people play dirty?

Yes! We all want to be bigger, serve more and raise more funding. And we are fighting for the same resources of a community to do so.

It’s always fun when another nonprofit’s development staff comes to your event to check out who is there and mingle.

Then there are the nonprofits created by the corporate community who get huge buckets of funding every year. Charlotte’s boards are heavily corporate which also impacts the way funding is distributed. Sadly, there are some organizations doing amazing work who can’t get any traction.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about working at a nonprofit?

We run like for-profits, except there are generally fewer resources.

When you work in nonprofit you throw the job description you signed up for out the window because you do everything.

There is no job I won’t do for the cause. I’ve stepped into meetings where I’ve had to fake it til I make it, but I’ve also had to stop what I was doing to fix a toilet.

Do you ever feel like there are too many nonprofits in Charlotte?

There are WAY too many nonprofits in Charlotte!

There are thousands and thousands of organizations competing for the same resources in our community.

Some are doing great work, some aren’t. And some aren’t even evaluating their work, so we have no clue what they’re doing.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you at work?

I once worked for an executive director who was misallocating federal funding.

None of us knew at the time but one day I got home from work and there were federal agents at my house. They looked just like Will Smith in “Men in Black.” They interviewed me for two hours and I was freaked out.

Do you guys really get paid as little as people think?

It depends on the size of the organization and where you are in your career–like any business.

I started working in nonprofit at $28,000 annually with no benefits.

Today, I’m middle management, make significantly more with great benefits and an annual bonus based on performance. I’ve worked for an organization with a $250,000 annual budget and an organization with $36 million annual budget. (The CEO of the $36 million organization makes almost half a million a year.)

There is a misconception that because we work for charity, we shouldn’t be paid well. We are tasked with solving complicated issues and to pick up where the government falls short… which is often. It’s important that we get it right and we deserve to be paid.

Do you work with people who don’t necessarily believe in the cause?

Yes. The people at nonprofits who don’t necessarily care are the ones who don’t come into regular contact with the cause. It can be people like staff accountants, the IT person, the marketing coordinator… you get the idea.

I have also seen people step away from nonprofit because it’s too much for them personally. It can be depressing depending on the situations you are working to improve. Burnout is real.

Any other confessions?

I have a bias against organizations like United Way.

If you want to give to a nonprofit in your community, spend time considering why and what your desired outcome is… then give directly to them. Don’t waste the admin fees that the United Way takes from your gift and your impact.

Also, I hate when people retire and come into nonprofit as their “fun job.”

It’s so frustrating when corporate level executives come in thinking they know everything about running a nonprofit or that they can do it better because they’ve had a successful career in a for-profit setting. What they consider a fun “passion project” is actually a lifetime career of nonstop community building and service to others.


Note: Love confessions? Here’s the entire confessions series collection. If you’d like to participate, please email hi@charlotteagenda.com. We promise to keep you anonymous.

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