How the Nonprofit Sector Captures Us- And Refuses to Let Us Go.

Have you ever wanted to leave the sector, but you’re 5 to 10 years in, and it’s looking like you can’t leave?

What keeps you stuck?

What makes you stay?

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine who is looking for a job.

She confessed, I’m thinking of getting a government job. I said, I don’t blame you. It’s stable, you’ll be represented by a union, better benefits, cost of living wage increases, and you might actually be nurtured to move on up in your department. She said yeah… but I still want to make a difference!

We’ve been trained to think that the nonprofit world has the market cornered on making a difference. It really doesn’t.

Government workers can make a difference. Corporate workers can make a difference. It’s just a meaningless phrase. A thought-terminating cliche that doesn’t have any basis in reality, a lot of times in nonprofits the work is meaningful, but we are not doing as much good work as we think. Is your nonprofit work REALLY meaningful work?

How so? Because quite frankly, if we’re not taking care of our staff by giving them a living wage with regular increases, we are actively moving BACKWARDS from the world we want. Don’t believe me? Read this.

Think about it.

I talked with a new friend over tea today and she said she worked at a nonprofit for 6 years-but got one measly raise in that time, and if she hadn’t lived in a rent controlled apartment, she could never have afforded it.

Now she’s going to be a contractor and work remotely for them. The founder is distressed that ALL of the original staff have stopped working at this nonprofit. And she’s probably asking herself WHY she just can’t find good help these days.

Why do YOU think the whole staff has left?

If you pay people the lowest possible wage, is it ANY WONDER that they are going to be enticed away by the prospect of better money elsewhere? We have to think of our future! Even in our 30s! Internalized oppression makes women treat other women this way.

My new friend couldn’t afford to move, because her job paid her almost nothing. Both friends have so much nonprofit experience at this point, they are afraid no other sector will take them, because they don’t have crucial “corporate” experience or “healthcare” experience or “government” experience.

What most sectors don’t understand is that nonprofit experience is super relevant to government or corporate work. We know how to save money. We know how to sell. How to market. How to research. How to create promotional materials. How to put on events. How to build relationships. We even may know about how to create policies, how to lobby or legislate based on our nonprofit experience.

Research has shown that women who enter nonprofit jobs are given more responsibility and titles that they would have to take years to fight for in corporate jobs. So they take these positions for the experience, to circumvent the corporate ladder. And then they can come into corporate worlds and have the experience they need to succeed.

So we stay stuck in the cycle of nonprofit jobs that will take us, in a pink collar ghetto, spiraling down the low income drain until we become the people that need help, instead of the helpers we all so desperately want to be.

mazarine treyz quote

What the hell is wrong with us?

What is wrong with our sector?

How do we get trapped by the nonprofit sector?

1. We get trapped by our experience always being in the nonprofit sector and other industries thinking it doesn’t apply to them.

2. We get trapped by taking very low wages, which doesn’t give us the flexibility to move, to take time off, or to get more education to move on up.

3. This low wage then leads us to devaluing ourselves in future scenarios, not asking for enough in the negotiation process, trying to work 2 jobs just to survive, getting exhausted and not ever having the energy to break out of the cycle of poverty and hustling

4. Our thought-terminating cliches about “wanting to make a difference” means we think that the only sector that can give us job satisfaction is the nonprofit sector, which, quite honestly, is not true.

How can we escape this cycle of devaluing ourselves, taking low wages, taking very little benefits, or accepting that we have to have a side hustle to survive?

If you live in an expensive city like NYC, Toronto, LA or San Francisco, you are going to be pushed out by rising rents to cheaper cities, such as, for example, Portland. Because of scarcity of housing, and the greediness of landlords and developers (and the proliferation of AirBnB owners), these cities will then also have increasing rents. This is already happening. What many people who move here don’t understand is that we ALSO have depressed wages here, so it’s just as hard to make a living in the sector, even if rents are cheaper, because the nonprofits have been allowed to get away with paying people less for 40 years.

What can we do?

We can name and claim what is going on. Here’s a post about the different kinds of oppression. What you don’t know CAN hurt you. Here’s more on rankism. You can arm yourself with knowledge, to start.

You can also listen to our new podcast, Name It!

Whether it’s sexism, and paying us less, asking us to do more, having to make money on the side, and not letting us make mistakes (or criticizing us for our fashion)

Whether it’s racism, and seeing the same dominant culture faces at the top of the board or in leadership roles at nonprofits…

Whether it’s ageism, and not being hired because we’re too old- or given a very small wage because “young people don’t know anything” or “young people have to pay their dues”….I could go on!

We can also just say you know what? There are too many problems here. I AM OUT!

Want to get out of the sector? YOU ACTUALLY CAN.

There’s no shame in moving to a different sector, where you don’t have to fight to get a merely living wage. I would not blame you in the least. In fact, I would help you get there. If you want help leaving the sector, I help people with resumes and cover letters all the time. Let me know if you want to do it! Email me at and we’ll set something up.

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