When to Say Yes

A few weeks ago, I was a guest speaker in a nonprofit consultancy class at the University of Oregon. When I speak at such events, I delight in sharing the joys and pitfalls of consulting for nonprofits, how to do it well, and why on earth one might consider building a career based on serving organizations that all too often equate the term "nonprofit" with "NO MONEY." 

One of the points I make in that particular presentation is that one should never take a consulting job that pays less than you are comfortable receiving for your work. Your work is valuable. You deserve to be compensated for it. This goes for career nonprofit people too, by the way. Just because you're working to change the world for the better doesn't mean you deserve to get paid a fraction of your private sector counterpart. If your organization can't afford it, you have a few choices:

1) Put up with low pay and struggle along, building bitterness and frustration into your daily routine and setting yourself up for burnout;

2) Find ways to raise more money to reinvest into your VERY IMPORTANT mission. If your mission wasn't VERY IMPORTANT, you wouldn't be working so hard on it, would you? And if it is so VERY IMPORTANT, other people will want to support it, won't they? So ask. 

I've slightly digressed because the issue of nonprofit pay gets me all riled up, but let's return to the matter at hand. I'm in front of a class full of graduate students, saying, "Don't take consulting jobs that don't pay you what you think the work you provide is worth." 

A student raised his hand and asked, somewhat incredulously, "But, what if they can't pay? Can't I do a job for less for them?" 

My answer? 

"You should do what you want to do."

And that isn't cheeky. That is the honest truth. Sometimes, we force ourselves to do things we don't want to do. We think it's the right thing, or it's helping someone, or it's our obligation, or we just aren't good at saying no. 

But the reality is, we don't do anybody favors when we ever-so-slightly resentfully say yes to things when we are not wholehearted about it. Do I take on contracts that pay less than my list price sometimes? Of course I do. But I do it on my terms and only when I truly want to do it. And when I do it, I make sure the people receiving the benefit of my reduced price understand the value of what I'm giving to them - usually in an invoice that shows a discount. 

I learned this the hard way. We've all discounted ourselves - literally or figuratively - a time or two. When we do that with a whole heart - with a resounding "YES" - we don't mind. We get the result. We build the relationship. We move forward. When we do it with a sense of obligation, desperation (if I don't do X, I won't get Y; or, for consultants, "I REALLY NEED THE JOB!"), we often fail to get the result we wanted. Our follow-through is wanting. The relationship is strained. Why? Because, we are witholding some level of our energy and commitment from the project. 

How do you know you're wholehearted? 

You feel excited. You feel light when you think about it. You feel like you would do it for free or less if you still got to do the work. You feel committed. You feel honored and honoring of others. 

On the flip side, you dread it. You resent it. You feel heavy and fold inward when you think of it. You complain about it to your friends. You feel scandalized. You feel like someone is taking advantage of you. 

Be wholehearted. Say YES when you want to, and say NO when you don't want to say YES with all your heart. That will simplify and strengthen your whole life.