Respect Your Value, and Others Will Value and Respect YOU

There is a little trap we fall into in the nonprofit sector sometimes.

We mistake this definition:

non·prof·it (nänˈpräfit/)

adjective: not making or conducted primarily to make a profit.

(a BIG thank you to the 3rd grader who lives inside my heart, who told me to start my blog today with "Webster's Dictionary defines 'nonprofit' as..." I couldn't have done it without you!)

I digress.

We mistake this definition: "not making or conducted primarily to make a profit" to mean "no money ever, at all, not for staff, not for the organization, and ESPECIALLY never, no not ever, for overhead."


I've ranted and raved about this for a long time now, and if you've read anything I've ever written, you already know I think this is utter and complete nonsense. It's bad for our organizations, bad for our missions, and bad, ultimately for society.

If you starve your organization and your staff, you can't very well serve the starving people you have set out to help, now can you?

But, on a deeper level, a personal level - this way of practicing the public good we offer is sucking our people dry. It's taking their good intentions, mining them for all their worth, and leaving their souls looking like a West Virginia mountaintop that's been turned into what amounts to an upside down molehill, full of fetid water. No offense.

Maybe a little offense.

You see, when we don't respect the value of the services and solutions we provide to the world and to our communities and tribes, we disrespect the value of the humans working for our missions. We take them for granted. We ask them to "do more with less." We demand their full attention, their time, their energy.

And in return, we ask them to be happy with the meager pay we offer (around 30% lower than similar jobs in the private sector)...and if they're lucky, they get some kind of benefits too! Yay!

Of course, there's the satisfaction of a job well done, and of giving your life to a higher purpose - there's that. This is definitely worth something. Most people in the nonprofit sector that I have had the pleasure of working with are driven by this higher purpose, of this bigger cause that lasts beyond their lives and careers. That is AWESOME and it can't be underplayed. I'll give you that. 

But there is still a huge problem I can't ignore

If you starve your organization and your staff, you can’t very well serve the starving people you have set out to help, now can you?

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The problem is...if you don’t value your own organization, your own mission, your own PURPOSE, why should you expect anybody else to value it?

The problem is, when you get right down to it, if you don't value your own organization, your own mission, your own PURPOSE, why should you expect anybody else to value it?

Why do you think people want to give you money so you can do this work? What makes you think that it's OK for them to imagine that investing in YOU, in your staff, in your administration is not valuable? Only money that goes "directly to the mission" is money well spent?

Shouldn't everything you do be in support of your mission? Isn't your administration there to make sure your organization is viable, and run well, and stable? What's so freaking wrong about that???????

Are you telling me that we want to make sure every nonprofit is barely hanging on, running on fumes, just lucky to make payroll (if they can even afford to have staff in the first place)? This is OK with us? This is effective mission support?

Clearly, it's not.

And not only is it wasting our incredible potential in the nonprofit - I mean, FOR PURPOSE - sector - it's destroying the very people who are the lifeblood of this good work.

Burnout. Health crises. Financial crises.

If I had my way, EVERY nonprofit would have a single common criterion for employment: if you work here, you should not be able to qualify for our services.

I get solidarity, yeah sure, but you know what's better than just solidarity?

Aspiration. Inspiration. Proof that you CAN have a better life. Our nonprofit people can and should be EVIDENCE of this!

And it starts with you. It starts with your thinking, your beliefs.

If you don't value yourself? If you don't value the people working with you or for you? You are stealing from your mission. You are selling your purpose to the lowest bidder. You are working against your own purpose.

You don't want that, do you? That's not who you are, is it?

So. If you can't get money, you might be able to get time. If you can't get time, you might be able to get some flexibility. If you can't get flexibility, see if there is something you want or need that you CAN get. And then, here's the hard part:


Let's practice.

I'm your boss. I will use a deep and imposing voice so I can be as intimidating as possible.

Me (your boss): Hi. Waddya want?

You (being strong and bold): Hi boss, you look great today, did you do something new with your hair?

Me (softening up): Why, yes, I am growing out a pixie cut, the worst fashion disaster known to man, but thanks for noticing. I'm really self-conscious about my lady-mullet right now, you need something?

You (extra bold): Yes. See, I'm feeling kind of (insert your feeling - drained? stressed? ok, but could be better?), and since the work we're doing is SO important to me, I want to make sure I'm at my best. I was thinking, it would really help me out if we could work out (more pay, better benefits, a flexible schedule, more time off - use your imagination - think before you ask - what do you REALLY want? If you don't know, you definitely need to spend some serious time on this).

Me (being bossy): Wellllll, I don't know. We're really strapped right now. And I forgot to tell you we have this awesome new project and I wanted you to take the lead on it! We're all working extra hard right now and...

You (being assertive and bold): Yeah. I am really excited about that project, but I need to be honest with myself and you right now. In order to be really amazing, I need (repeat your request)...

Me: OK, I'll see what I can do.

You: Thanks, boss, you're the best!

And, scene.

I'm not going to tell you it's easy, that it will go over well, that other people will understand what the heck you think you're doing and where do you get off being all healthy and crap. They won't. Especially if you are working in what I like to call a "co-dependent organization." This is where everybody works extra hard to cover their bases, maintain control at all costs, work harder than they have to because they are terrified they will lose their jobs, or that they're not good enough, or that their bosses will get mad, or that other people will have to work harder if you don't work harder...etc... Sound familiar?

Yeah, it probably does.

The truth is, if you start to take up the space you deserve - the space you need to be healthy and well - the world will shape itself around you. Your environment will change when you change.

Change is HARD! It is not something that comes easily. And sometimes it has consequences you didn't foresee or didn't think you'd want.

But guess what: you MUST value your own input, your own purpose, your own well-being. Because if you don't, nobody will do it for you - and worse - you will fail to serve your purpose and mission in life, and in your job. That's pretty crappy if you ask me.

I want to challenge you today to take a few minutes to sit still and be quiet and turn your thoughts inward for a little bit.

What is your value? What is important in you that you offer the world? Why are you worthy of respect and love? Why should you get satisfaction and purpose in your life? What is it that is valuable about you that nobody sees? What is it that is valuable about you that YOU don't see?

If you come up empty handed, try this. 

You care about other people, right?

That's probably why you're doing the work you're doing. And, I would imagine, if you care about people, you have compassion for them. Compassion that is human, that isn't condescending, that is genuine and pure. You see someone who is suffering, and you hurt with them. You meet them where they are and you want to give them a hand up. Right?

Think about a time you felt compassion and love for someone else. Think about a client, a child, anybody who has been vulnerable to you, and for whom you felt this pure compassion.

Dwell in this feeling for a few minutes. Relive that compassion and care for that person.

Once you feel it, REALLY feel it, look at yourself with these compassionate eyes.

You matter just as much as that person mattered to you. You are just as important and valuable as that person. And you have this value and this importance because you exist. You are a human - you matter. You are valuable because you are valuable. It's a self-completing circle.

Your value doesn't come from what you DO. What you PRODUCE. What you GIVE. It comes from your BEING.

Tap into that value, that deep, existential value.

And go from there. Be strong, hold that value, and be true to it.

And as you learn to do this - you will bring EVEN GREATER value to the mission you serve, to your purpose, and to your life and the lives of others.

Be well, value yourself, and demand that others hold that value too - lead by example by valuing yourself.

Sarai JohnsonComment