Friday, February 09, 2007


At 7:45am this morning, I fumbled with the shiny, stainless steel tongs that had been provided to grab a large banana nut muffin and some fruit, stacked my plate on top of my cup of inadequately caffeinated coffee, and sat down at a table with seven other nonprofit leaders at a corporate campus at the corner of I-394 and Highway 169. The company generously provides nonprofit staff with intermittant training opportunities - generally because they've spent thousands to bring a consultant in to train their own staff and are able to tack this onto the package as a contribution to the community. From a nonprofit employee perspective, it means the ability escape the chaos of a regularly schuduled 9 to 7 job, or to get a glimpse into how the other half live.

Corporate campuses are a world apart from any of my experience in nonprofits. Private gas stations, gift shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, barber shops - any and all manner of conveniences under a series of roofs, people wandering around in full suits and heels, coiffed and manicured and made up, photo I.D.s being scanned at the door before being funneled through turnstiles. Send a bunch of nonprofit people into that type of environment and they stick out like sore thumbs. Even in my khaki pants (my dress up clothes at work), my jean jacket was a dead give away. If that weren't enough, you'd only have to look for the nose ring and three earrings in each ear. Beyond the obvious visual clues, there are the cultural differences. When I sat down this morning, I was introduced to 7 people dedicated to completely different things - occupational therapy for single African American mothers, childhood development for autistic children, independent publishing - in 2003, there were nearly 5,000 nonprofits in Minnesota with at least one employee, and no two causes are precisely the same. We listened to each other intently as each mission was described, nodded our heads, asked questions, and said "That's great!" to each and every one (whether or not you happen to mean it is a personal matter). When the company representative got up to introduce herself and the speaker, the “mission statement”, ultimately, was to sell product(s) – and to continuously learn how to sell the product(s) better. Some people are in charge of selling the product(s) domestically, some internationally. Some people are responsible for making sure enough product gets produced. Some people are responsible for making sure there are enough raw materials to create the products in the first place. But ultimately, the goal is to have people buy the product, and to have that happen continuously and increasingly forever and ever amen.

Perhaps Lloyd Dobbler can best describe my general feeling on this one: "I don't want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." I also don’t want to live in poverty, feel forever like there’s so much need and not enough time or money or resources to fix all the need, get stereotyped as a hippie tree-hugging liberal (as true as that may be), or work for any one of a plethora of poorly organized, poorly run nonprofits.

I do want to feel connected to what I do. I do want to do something that makes a difference. I want to be able to provide a comfortable life for my family. I want to travel. I want to give gifts and go out to dinner and see live theater. I want all this and more.

What’s your mission?

No comments: