It’s Okay to Leave

There have been several posts, articles, and a semaphore or two in recent months on the subject of Development professional tenure insomuch as… there is none. All purport to have a unique spin on the celebrated, if not infamous, study entitled “UnderDeveloped” by CompassPoint from several years ago. You know the study. It’s the one that says Development types only stay 16 months on average in their jobs; that the vast majority of us are unhappy and don’t even want to be in this profession; and that, 80% of the organizations we work for have Board of Directors that “aren’t committed to fundraising” at even the most basic level (think social anxiety disorder).

It ain’t all duckies and bunnies, amirite?

Most of the recent posts have been good-intentioned, to be sure, and are coming from a place of trying to help our fellow fundraising brethren weather the storms that circle this industry. But a few of them that I’ll leave unnamed for fear of being trolled by Russian hackers (we know what they can do after all), sail dangerously close to the shallow waters of victim-blaming. As in, “us Development types need to endure whatever and stay longer than 16 months at a job for the sake of our careers and the industry as a whole.” I half expected their title to read “Hey, snowflake, suck it up.”

I’ve had four Director-level jobs (or higher) in my career. At two of them, my tenure was a combined 15 years. For the other two… well… not so much. Let’s just say they were closer to the 16-month average.

Curious right? Clearly, if I can last 15 years at two jobs, I’m the kind of professional that can establish roots, build relationships, and generally look to the long-term. So, why didn’t I “suck it up” at the other two for the sake of my career?

Because at one of them, the Executive Director was verbally, emotionally, and intellectually abusive on a regular basis. She was the kind of person who thought calling people a half dozens times each day while they were on vacation and screaming at them “SHUT UP IDIOT, AND GET IT DONE!” was an appropriate form of motivation.

At the other… The Board Chair ordered me to commit an act of fraud. Nuff’ said.

Robert California on The Office said during the Season 7 finale that, “The fallacy is that it is up to the steamroller to decide… it is up to the object whether it will be flattened or not.” The two jobs that I just mentioned are the kind of people and places that will flatten you if you let them. They’re not the kind of places you “suck it up” for the sake of your career… they’re the kind of places you run from, kicking and screaming, with a banker’s box nestled under your arm brimming over with your assorted inspirational posters and desk toys including that limited edition Wolverine figurine.

Before you quote me the story of Frodo from the Lord of the Rings, and the notion that I should have fought back because even the smallest of us can make a difference, remember that he had a magic sword and a fellowship of mighty warriors by his side including a wizard. A WIZARD, for fuck’s sake! All I had, and I’m sure, all that many of you have in the nonprofit world, is a desktop computer running Windows Vista, a half empty box of paperclips scrounged from the recycle bin, and a couple of volunteers that like to stuff envelopes. Not a wizard in sight. Telling us to to stay and cleave to some misguided, turn-the-other cheek philosophy, is just a form of Stockholm syndrome in an effort to “Humanize” the people and places that if we really take a full and honest accounting of the situation, are not quite human.

After all, is it really human to threaten to fire someone asking to leave at 4pm so that they can go to the hospital to be with an immediate family member that was dying? Not a second cousin, once-removed. An immediate family member.

Is it really human to order someone to misappropriate tens of thousands of dollars in restricted funding earmarked for a program for dying children so that you can “kick-back” business to your cronies who you like to ponce around with?

And even if these people are human, and deserve a second (or 42nd) chance for that matter, what of our humanity? What about those of us that cut through this world like Captain America and do the right thing time and time again. Is not our humanity also paramount? Why must we shrink like violets and “suck it up?”

The author Marianne Williamson once wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you NOT to be?”

So, my dear fellow nonprofit warriors, do not for one second let the abusive Asshats, the lying thieves, and the victim-blamers make you doubt yourself. Don’t ever let them tell you that something wrong is something right. YOU are powerful, beyond measure. YOU are the ones trying to save the world.

It is not incumbent upon you to “suck it up” and fix the 16-month tenure problem of our profession. It’s incumbent upon THEM to stop being Asshats, trust in our abilities, invest in our growth, put their big-boy and girl pants on and embrace a culture of philanthropy, and generally hold these Jerkwads accountable for their “less than humane” actions.

Because when push comes to shove, there is no script or formula that says the only way you can save the world is by staying at this particular job in this particular corner of the universe.

That’s the thing about the world… it always needs saving… because there will always be people in it like my former Executive Director and Board Chair.

So, if you need to leave… leave… and don’t look back.

And as you drive away, blast Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”  I did.

– Jon




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