Author Archives: ambiguousamy

On the way we think about non-profits

I am overhead.

If you work for any non-profit organization, it is guaranteed that one of the top 5 questions you have to answer relates to your admin costs. This question comes in various forms. The educated: “Tell me more about your organization’s funding structure.” The blunt: “So how much money ACTUALLY gets spent where its needed?” And the downright offensive: “How much do you make doing THAT?”

I also spend a lot of time fielding other ridiculous questions (“Does your CEO ride in her own private jet?”) and ridiculous statements (“I don’t donate because your organization funds abortions!”).  But admin costs are the biggie. Every year prior to our big fundraising push, an anonymous email circulates throughout our city, literately titled, “The Best and Worse Charities!”

Aside from featuring a truly remarkable abomination of the concepts of spelling and punctuation, the email is also one of those that remarks plaintively that 99% of people won’t forward it, which, in my opinion, is probably the only accurate statistic in the whole message.

It also has the nerve to call organizations that purportedly pay their executives a competitive wage “offenders”:

“Keep these facts in mind when “donating”. As you open your pockets for yet another natural disaster, keep the following facts in mind; we have listed them from the highest (worse paid offender) to the lowest (least paid offender).”

Honestly, I’m SICK AND TIRED of this attitude. And no, I’m not sick and tired because I sacrifice all of my worldly possessions, health, and sanity to help people by working in a non-profit. I have GREAT health care and benefits; my employer sees to that. I have had amazing training, experiences, and treatment because my workplace sees me as an asset, one which if invested in can bring back exponentially more to the organization, and subsequently, to those we serve.

Why is it that a millionaire who gained his wealth at the expense of others can be lauded as a philanthropist for making a charitable contribution to an organization, but a social worker at that organization who makes in a year what the millionaire makes in a few days can be criticized for even having a salary? Surely anyone who sets out the majority of their adult life to help those in need shouldn’t be rewarded! Surely there should be no incentive other than martyrdom to do this kind of work!

We need a paradigm shift. We need to start investing in non-profit the way we would invest in a business. We need to change the rules of the game so that there is incentive for the industry of helping humanity to grow and to innovate. Nobody makes this argument more succinctly and more convincingly than Dan Pallotta, who can be seen here in a TED Talk entitled “ The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

If you have, do, or will ever give money to a charitable cause, I strongly encourage and downright urge you to watch this video. Watch this video, and read everything you can get your hands on about your organization of choice. And before your open your mouth, read the organization’s latest Annual Report. In its entirety, including the financials. If you want to invest your dollars – because truly, donating to a charitable cause is exactly that, investing in our collective future – you need to be just as informed as if you were making a business decision.

With this new attitude and in-depth knowledge, you will be equipped to invest your money in something you believe in. And believe me, the staff of that organization will love you for it.


P.S. Still don’t believe me? Read this article.

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On things they don’t tell you about the “real world”

Upon graduation, you cease to be defined by what you study, what sports you play, and what clubs you join. Instead, you become defined by how you answer the question “What do you do?” And if your current “doings” aren’t employment for financial gain, or if your employment activities aren’t easily summarized in one sentence, you have just thrown a giant wrench into the question-poser’s day. Graduation, essentially, is a massive paradigm shift in your life. After over 16 years dedicated to being a student, you just change gears, and start being…an employee? a citizen? an ADULT?

You would think that after 16 years of study you should know every single thing about life and living it, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is going to be some culture shock. For example, once you leave university, it will no longer be safe to assume that everyone around you is computer and technology literate. You may encounter situations like the following:

  • People who don’t know where to find the control panel.
  • People who ask you how to hashtag things while composing a Tweet using only one ring finger.
  • People who don’t understand why printing out non-static, shared calendars to organize their month is a bad idea.
  • People who did not know that you could make a “neat chart like that” in Excel.
  • People who do not know “how to print this.”
  • People who think that it would be okay, since they don’t have Photoshop, to just “fix it up” in MS paint.
  • People who do all of these things combined, and are your boss.

Another culture shock comes with the realization that your former knowledge base is mostly useless, and that your new life paradigm requires a completely new type of knowledge, of which you are entirely devoid. You might be able to rattle off (easily Google-able) factoids such as all of the former PM’s, or sing a soulful tune about the Kreb Cycle, but chances are that your education did NOT teach you:

  • How not to cry during your first oil change, and phone your partner crying about your cabin air filter.
  • How to not sound like a total moron the first time you call your insurance provider.
  • How to obtain said insurance before even being able to ask silly questions regarding it.
  • How to have a tough conversation with your boss, or in the event that it becomes necessary, your boss’ boss.
  • How to write a resignation letter that doesn’t teem with seething resentment.
  • Where to even start when you just moved across the country and you literally need to buy one of everything that anyone ever needed in a house, ever.
  • That not every city has rodent and raccoon problems like Toronto does, and that enquiring as to “how bad the rats get around here” may get you some strange looks in Alberta.
  • How to look semi-composed in your office parking lot in the middle of a tearful phone call home.
  • How to do your taxes in a timely and non-stressful fashion.
  • What the letters TFSA stand for, why mutual funds are mutual, or the tenuous difference between the words stock and share.
  • How to FUNCTION at LIFE.

But another thing that they don’t tell you? Figuring all of this out is complex, and terrifying, and humbling. It is full of uncertainty, and flip-flopping, and stress-eating. Some days you might open your front door, and look out at the real world, and get so nervous that you barf on your doorstep. But some days, you take a deep breath, and walk out said door vomit-free, and realize that real life, however uncertain, can actually be a lot of FUN.


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