That’s dumb. I’d give to some of the 85,000 registered charities in Canada alone. They’re doing good work. I’d help them do what they’re good at. Just because I’m a new multimillionaire doesn’t mean I’m suddenly an expert in things.What I would do though? Create a fundraiser watchdog organization. Recent conversations at AFP Congress, The #Donorlove Rendezvous and Fundraising Day have reminded me that the charitable sector employs thousands of loving, generous and empathetic people. We are people who care and want to give back and help things get better for everyone.But that has a dark side. It means that we sacrifice our work-life balance to achieve goals. It means we don’t push for fair working hours or fair salaries or more support staff because “that’ll affect the cost per dollar raised”. Because there’s always MORE to do! To raise! To help! We think in the short-term. We don’t invest in our people. We burn people out at an alarming rate.
We are vulnerable employees because we are often contract, non-union, and full of HEART.
Which is unfortunate. First, because most charitable sector employees chose to work here because they wanted to do good. And we harm them? Second, because fundraising is built on relationships. And this sector is built on fundraising dollars! Churning through staff every two years is not reassuring to a donor with whom we’re trying to build long-term, loving relationships, nor is it the way to build fundraising programs with long-term strategies and goals.
A watchdog organization. Here are some components that would be important:
- Educational sessions for employees and employers on the Employment Standards Act (ESA) or whichever employment act is applicable where you live. We often don’t have Human Resource departments. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to follow proper Human Resources Policy. I’m not an expert, but from poking around in the ESA, I’ve learned that in Ontario, employers need written permission to make you work over 44 hours a week, and that salaried, non-managerial employees are entitled to time and a half for every hour over 44 hours worked a week, or 1.5 hours of lieu time. I had no idea.
- An anonymous forum to air grievances and warnings: Other groups, like journalists, have done this. Fundraising in particular is a small, close-knit community. But there are some terrible bosses, some terrible work places and there should be a space for discussion. Ken Wyman, Fundraising Education Godfather, has spoken many times about this – what do we do to warn others? Nothing right now, just word of mouth.
- Legal Aid: Because I’ll have won $50 million from the lottery I never play, I would employ employment lawyers to support charitable employees in making their employers comply with the law.
- Board member education sessions: Hey dummies! If you don’t pay your staff enough to do the MASSIVE AMOUNT of innovative work you want them to do, they’ll leave! Pay them what they’re worth. You invest in your employees at your companies. Why don’t you think charities should do the same?
- A certification program that verifies workplaces as being ESA (or local employment act) compliant.
But unfortunately, I’m not a newly-minted lottery winner. I don’t even buy tickets.
So what can I do? I’m 30, I’m 8 years into my fundraising career, and I’m now a strategist at an agency. I’m not a CEO. I’m not a VP. I’m not even a manager. I’m not in charge. I’m just someone who gets sad and frustrated when I hear the same stories about charities over and over.
I never want to hear a CEO say “Oh we don’t do lieu time here, because we all work overtime.”
I never want to have a colleague respond to my rants about too many weekends with “well, I mean, I don’t care because I want to further my career and being agreeable and doing the work will help me. Why rock the boat?”
I never want to spend months with a sore heart, full of worry about a wonderful co-worker who has gone on sick leave because of stress and anxiety and depression and exhaustion, all stemming from terrible leadership.
I never want to be held to the same commitment standards as a director who makes 10 times my salary and gets double my vacation time. You can hire a cleaning service, afford a car, and get away from it all at your cottage. I can’t.
I never want to leave a job at an organization I love because I am totally and completely burnt out. Spent. Done.
I would describe myself as a fundraiser to the core. I am not interested in being in charge. I feel lucky that I’ve found a role that suits my skills and a team that embraces my quirks, and I hope I can support the sector! I work with fundraisers everyday in my new role as a strategist and while none of them are dealing with major dysfunction like in some charities, I can still see that these amazing, dedicated fundraisers still have their own struggles.
Why are they so prevalent? And what are you doing to change the culture at your organization?
I wish I was ending this post with a bright and happy solution. An easy takeaway for you to take back to your charity to implement and make things better. I can’t. I can support my peers. I can be kind and loving and giving to my coworkers. I can be firm in setting my own work-life balance. I can mentor.
But, I’m not in charge.
Maybe you are.
Maybe you can start changing things from the top.
Written by Stephanie Highfield
Stephanie is a fundraiser, a thinker, and a maker. Currently a Fundraising Strategist at Blakely, she’s spent the last 8 years working for a variety of charities across Toronto, raising funds for and telling stories about everything from fully digital hospitals to children’s choirs to family-centred addiction treatment. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.
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