Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Way back in 1981, the Clash put it so well:
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go
Fundraising is a career in which people ca change jobs frequently; and, usually, it is not held against them. Years ago, when I began my professional career, it was not uncommon to meet people who had been with the same organization and sometimes, even in the same position, for their entire careers. These people were the repositories of institutional history, often invaluable; but almost as often, they were also the immovable objects that stood in the way of modernization. More than 30 years ago when I joined the fundraising world, everything was just beginning to change. Development was becoming much more professionalized and specialized. Technology was starting to change just about everything. But something else also changed and that was the attitude that employers and employees had toward change, itself. For the most part, people who spent an entire career with one organization were about to become a thing of the past.
By now, we have all been told many times that most of us can expect not only to change jobs during the course of our careers, but to change careers too. This seems to be particularly true in the non-profit world. People not only change jobs and careers fairly frequently. Fundraisers move over into programming or communications, and sometimes, programming people move into fundraising. Sometimes these changes are a result of economic choices or sudden, unexpected opportunities. Sometimes a job change (if not a career change) is just logical.
For example, you may join an organization for a specific campaign and when the campaign is over, so is the job. Sometimes, we change our jobs to move up the food chain or to work for a different type of non-profit with a mission that more closely reflects our own interests and passions. There is a caveat here. If your entire resume consists of nothing but one-year jobs, your new, potential employer may have some questions. However, in general, if you have moved around a bit, this is not all that likely to be automatically perceived as a negative.
Of course, one of the biggest reasons to change jobs is unhappiness with the job one has. And the things that cause that unhappiness are universal in the world of work – in the for-profit and non-profit worlds: bad management, lack of opportunity for growth, changes in the hierarchy of an organization that have a negative impact on your work, job burnout, lack of appreciation, and a myriad other reasons.
So, how do you decide when to stay or go? Because, as the Clash also noted:
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
In other words, is the evil you know better than the new evil you don’t know? Or is anything better than what you have now?
In my career, I have changed jobs fairly often. In fact, in the last ten years, I have worked for four different organizations. I have never been fired so the choice to change was mine. And each time I made a change, I did it for a different reason.
My first change came after four years on the job. I liked the organization. I believed in its mission, and I was quite successful. So why change? I just felt it was time to do something different.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, the something different I chose was not the best idea I ever had. After a relatively short time on the job, I saw that this new organization and I simply were not a good fit. One reason was that my personality and that of my immediate superior did not mesh well, but that alone might not have led me to look for a new position.
What was more critical to me was my realization that the mission of this organization did not resonate with me at all. Fundraising is hard work and requires a lot of dedication. If you don’t particularly like or believe in the mission of your employer, I think it is even more difficult. I know that many people work at jobs they don’t like, but I think non-profit work is different because no one works for a non-profit for money, alone. We choose to do this kind of work because we believe in philanthropy. We believe in causes. We may not all believe in the same causes, but I think most of us do believe. So, if you can work for a group that captures your heart and soul, why wouldn’t you?
Sometimes it is circumstances beyond our control that leads us to make a change. As we all know by now, Bernard Madoff’s criminal activities have not just affected donor investments or even foundation funding. Organizations caught up in the Ponzi king’s schemes have had to cut jobs and many honest and hardworking fundraisers have paid the price even though they, personally, had nothing to do with Madoff. From his jail cell, Mr. Madoff may try and make the case that people who invested with him should have known better and that the only people victimized by him were avaricious types who deserved what they got, but many of us know that this is not true. Many people have had jobs cut in half or entirely eliminated because of cutbacks necessitated by an organization’s involvement with Bernard Madoff.
But let’s say none of that is in play in your particular case. You have a job. And then you are offered another job. Do you stay or do you go?
One way to decide is to ask and answer a few simple questions:
- How long have I been thinking about leaving? If this is a new thought, maybe you need to wait a little bit to determine if you really want to go or if you are just having a bad week. If you have been thinking about leaving for a long time, then you can move on to the next question.
- Is this personal or is it something more than that? In other words, do you want to go because you dislike your Executive Director or Board Chair or, is your unhappiness rooted more in the culture of the organization itself? Of course, disliking the people you work with every day can become insurmountable if your dislike is so strong that it interferes with your ability to function. But, sometimes by using some creative thinking, you can find a way to work with people you don’t particularly like. And of course, people do come and go – not just you but also those people you don’t like. But if it is the culture of the organization that is the problem, that may be more serious. All organizations have a culture. The question is whether the culture of your organization supports your efforts or fights against them. And that leads to the next question.
- Can you succeed in this environment? It might seem absurd to think that a non-profit organization would cultivate a climate in which a fundraiser can’t succeed, but it happens. Sometimes the problem is that the Executive Director and others in positions of authority don’t really understand how fundraising works. Sometimes the very structure of an organization throws obstacles in the fundraiser’s path. Sometimes there is a lack of cooperation and collaboration. Sometimes there is no infrastructure and no money to create one. Sometimes, there are not enough people involved and sometimes, there are too many. As a fundraiser, you have to figure out what you need to succeed and then decide if your organization gives you the tools you need or withholds them.
In the end, I think it is my last question that is the most critical. If you feel you can do no more than you have already done or that you just can’t do any of the things you believe need to be done, it probably is time for you to go.
Change can be intimidating. All of us have a comfort zone we like to inhabit, but I think change also can be a good thing and getting out of your comfort zone can actually be quite liberating. I know a lot of people who think that asking someone for money is just about the most frightening thing they can imagine. As a fundraiser, you are already doing that, so you are a lot braver than you think you are.
Ultimately, only you can decide whether you should stay or go and that decision will be different not only for each person, but for you each time you consider a move. I have gone and I have stayed. But no matter which choice you make, never second guess yourself. Never look back. Never regret. Sometimes you get a really bad haircut, but you have to remember, it’s only hair and it will grow back. And there always is another job out there – somewhere.
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