Get Over Yourself and Ask

Dec 10, 2008 by

Note: This post was originally published on the Nonprofit Congress blog 3/6/08.

There’s been some buzz in the blogosphere and in some newspapers about the new Ready to Lead? report published this week. The report details findings after a survey of almost 6000 nonprofit employees. The simple conclusions: most (2/3) younger leaders either aren’t sure about or definitely do not want to step into the role of Executive Director. The top reasons? Fund raising duties and lack of appropriate work/life balance. My reaction? What a shocker! (with a heavy tinge of sarcasm)

This report details, yet again, what we already knew: younger people in the sector aren’t receiving the pay, professional development opportunities or recognition they want and deserve. Most people have responded with a call for higher pay, more opportunities to learn and move up, and/or criticism of current leaders for their short-sightedness. I don’t disagree with those comments, but my first thoughts were a bit different. Namely: have any of these younger leaders ASKED for a raise or the money to attend a professional development workshop? Have they spoken to their supervisors and EDs about how unhappy they are or what they need to feel fulfilled? Have they put their own time and effort into growing themselves beyond their jobs?

I am certainly not trying to criticize other young leaders. I’ve had my share of unhappy experiences at jobs with very low pay, ridiculous hours, and absolutely no recognition of my work. Those experiences are demoralizing, depressing, and often soul-crushing. But how can you expect better if you don’t ask for it or even demand it? And what are you going to do if they don’t give it to you? As Rosetta over at Perspectives from the Pipeline reminds us, you must ask if you wish to receive. And you must know what your next move is if you don’t get it.

Here’s the deal: we’re only going to get higher pay, better benefits, professional development, and leadership opportunities when we all ASK for it. We can’t expect these things to fall in our laps. We also can’t expect one job to fulfill every single need we have (we don’t expect one person or one type of food to do this, why would we expect this out of our jobs?). We have to seek out opportunities to lead, exercise influence without authority, take the initiative, and help each other.

We also need to talk to those already in the leadership positions-those supposedly intractable Baby Boomers that are cramping our style. Maybe they don’t know we’re unhappy or that we can barely pay rent. (You might be thinking, ‘yeah right.’ But many nonprofit EDs are just treading water, trying to stay above the all-consuming tide of work. They likely don’t have time to think of your professional development every day.) By having an honest, open conversation about what you need-whether it’s public recognition, a raise or money to attend our conference-you are laying the groundwork for better relationships and hopefully, your professional happiness. You’ll also be helping to ‘raise the tide’ for the younger leaders that follow you so we can stop perpetuating the cycle of low pay and no opportunities.

So get over it and get what you deserve. And let me know how it goes.