Burned to a Crisp

This post isn’t going to tell you anything you haven’t been told before.  Today, I just don’t care. And actually, that’s the point…because, really how could I?

How is it that we can get so lost in doing good? Volunteerism is on the rise for young people, national service is finally receiving some political support and widespread attention, and the non-profit sector still exists. What could be wrong with that?

Let me just give you a glimpse into the life of a typical non-profit worker:

My job as a non-profit Social Worker: I have no skills and have received no training for the work I do.  I am forced to take a 1/2 hour unpaid break for every six hours I work (or one hour for every eight).  My hourly pay is $11. The last time my employer gave me a raise was three years ago. My Christmas bonus is a $15 gift card. On a regular basis, I am  expected to clean up urine, feces, and vomit.  We don’t have any biohazard disposal kits.  Usually, I work until midnight, and since I can’t afford a car, I walk home – that takes me about an hour.  Sometimes I am able to eat free meals from the soup kitchen, and I’m thankful for that.  I’ve never been offered benefits.  I have never had a supervisor check-in with me, let alone a regular review.  When one of our clients died, there was no mention of it except in written notes used for documenting client behavior.

My job as a non-profit employee in an office: Most of my knowledge is experiential – I’ve only attended one training in the past three years. My hourly pay is $14. My Christmas bonus is more substantial than a gift card, which I appreciate.  Until recently, I spent a lot of time on facebook and sending personal emails – if I leave work, I won’t get paid.  My first review in over 1.5 years was a month ago – I am now expected to take on much more than in the past, but the only way I’ve been compensated is with a title change.  My last raise was 2 years ago.  Every fundraiser I’ve helped put on since I began working at the organization has been more successful than the last.  Much of my time is spent in committee meetings where people with no particular expertise talk about strategies but rarely devise tangible action items.  There is no room for growth – my organization is not interested in employing workers full-time (then they’d have to offer benefits).

So, why don’t I do something about this? Stand up for myself and ask for a raise, or move on? I suppose I feel trapped – stuck in a sector where neither specialization nor generalization have value.  A place where I’d be lucky to make $60,000 annually 15 years from now. But, at least I can pretend that the work I do is somehow making the world a better place.  At least I’m not stuck in a monotonous job doing desk work all day, right?  What I really want is some acknowledgement – someone to say that the nonprofit sector sort of sucks.  Someone to question what’s really working – and what isn’t. Is there actually a societal benefit to me holding jobs that keep me in poverty, when I have a freaking master’s degree?

My plan? Leave the sector…throw aside all the experiential knowledge I’ve gained for a decent, well-paying job with benefits.  Then, maybe I’ll volunteer somewhere and bake cookies every day for the people who work where I donate my time.  Hell, maybe I’ll even donate some money.  It’s sad to say I’m burned out, but it’s scary to know I’m certainly not the only one. No, really…(read this one, too).


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