I came to my job—at a small non-profit, doing basically all the word work and some graphic design and what tech work I can muster—with a certain amount of idealism. Some realism, too; at 28 I was long past the idea that I’d save the world, but I came here wanting to feel I was part of positive movement—that my days weren’t turns of the hamster wheel, they were little scoots toward a more just world. But still, the idea of progress, of making life better for us all, went a long way toward making me satisfied to be here.
I still think my organization does good work. I know we do. But I’ve also seen so much repetition—not like knitting, but in the annual- to five-year cycle, unintended and fruitless. The same problems resurface in different shapes, and we solve them in the same incomplete ways over and over. We spend more and more hours on what we call “reporting” ; funders and intermediaries require week-eating reports. So much time to prove we’re doing good work and so much less time to do it. More and more programs have their brains eaten out by umbrella organizations and bureaucracies who control the money, so that we are more like robotic arms than our own whole living things. Everyone is so stretched to cope with all this, just to stay in place, that there is no energy to innovate, even though we say that’s what we do best.
And it’s not just in my organization. Friends in other places say the same; I see it at conferences of local non-profits. Especially fundraising conferences. The lack of passion. The ongoing dowdiness.
And, most eerily, I see so many people like me doing this job. White, female, overeducated, more or less liberal, more or less creative, more or less getting by. Where are the old white men? Where are the young black women? Where are the geeky young guys and the ladies who wear a TON of makeup and the NASCAR fans and the African immigrants my age? I think that my job needs someone much less like me in it. I think I need a job that surprises me more.