Nonprofits are known for terrible, out-of-date websites and for being slow to adopt new marketing and communication strategies. These practices stem, in part, from the expense of building and maintaining an active web presence. Donors want their dollars allocated to programs (feeding starving children, curing diseases, planting trees), not to designers who know the latest trends in typography or flat design or to programmers who focus on building specifically for mobile or integrating social media.
In an age where a company’s online presence can be the primary way to attract new donors, some nonprofits are beginning to foreground their need for excellent tech-focused talent. Yet even if nonprofits prioritize tech in their budget and call out for support, how will they compete with the benefits offered to employees by for-profit companies? As it is our mission to bridge the tech and nonprofit communities, Omakase would like to highlight some of the awesome individuals we have encountered who answered these calls from nonprofits. Today will be the first of many posts that highlight people who have left tech to work at nonprofits.
This morning, we bring you: Zac Halbert, Product Lead at Samahope, a great organization that allows donors to fund doctors directly in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia.
These are his words:
Hate your job? Welcome to the club.
Are you dissatisfied with your job? Two out of three of you likely are. I work in tech in San Francisco, and in addition to talk of stock options and the latest startup launch, a perennial topic that bubbles up is the search for meaning in your work. This recent article from VC Marc Andreessen points out the huge advantage mission-driven companies have in recruiting.
I recently made the shift from Recurly, a successful for-profit tech business, to a tiny non-profit startup called Samahope. I made this leap after years of half-heartedly searching for more meaning in my daily work. I accepted that more meaning likely meant less pay—not that startups always pay well, and not that you can’t find meaning at for-profit companies. It’s also worth pointing out the privilege we have in the tech sector of being able to leave jobs that pay well for jobs with more meaning.
What finally helped tip me over the edge from uncertainty to action was a simple framework I’m going to share that helped me learn how best to search for meaning in my own work. It only takes about 5 minutes; you’ll need a timer, a pen, and some sticky notes to replicate this exercise yourself. The results will probably surprise you. Thanks to Tristan Kromer for suggesting this exercise to me.
Understand your values first
Step 1. Set a timer for 3 minutes, and start writing down all the benefits you get from work in general (not necessarily just your current job), as well as all the benefits you’d like to get from work. Keep ideas brief, one idea per sticky note. Here’s mine:
Step 2. Once the timer dings, take the pile of sticky notes and begin sorting them into two rows. The first row are values that are important to you, the second are values that are not as important to you. You must pick a row — nothing in between, and no adding extra rows!
Step 3. Once that’s done, begin sorting your rows into 2 columns (leaving you with a 2x2 grid with four quadrants). Put stickies on the right that relate more to non-profit work (or social enterprise), and on the left put the stickies that pertain to staying put. Again, pick a column — nothing in between.
(Note: The magic only works if you actually *do* the exercise yourself.)
Hopefully you were like me and had an epiphany: pursue the work that satisfies more of the values you placed in the first row, and consequently your work will be more meaningful.
Of course this is just a tool and real life isn’t so black and white (especially on the topic of salary). However, I hope it gives you just enough perspective to make your decision easier.
Understanding the differences between non-profit and for-profit
The most striking thing I initially noticed between the non- and for-profit worlds was precisely how similar the day-to-day work is. I’m still building products, talking to customers (donors in this case), and trying to move important KPIs forward. We run on donations like a business runs on sales.
Sure, non-profits use different lingo than you’re probably used to, you won’t get stock options and probably won’t make as much as you would in the for-profit tech world. But the largest difference by far is the outcome of your work.
I’ll close with this final thought about outcomes. By leaving my job at a tech company, I gave up my chance for equity, large financial rewards, and a good position in a very successful company. Here’s what I get instead.
Every week, when I do my routine updates of our organization’s metrics spreadsheets, I get to update a new metric that I’ve never used before at any of my other jobs. It’s the “treatments funded” metric. Every time we get enough donations on our site to fund a treatment, we get to cut a check to a doctor who will perform that treatment for someone who wouldn’t be able afford it otherwise.
It’s a special feeling to watch that number grow each week, and know that another kid is going to get to grow up with a mom, or a woman whose life was destroyed by injury will have it restored.
No stock options, though. Some tradeoff, huh?
Thanks Zac for letting us share your story and the awesome work that you and Samahope do. Keep kicking butt!
Want to read more stories about people with tech skills who work with nonprofits? Follow @omakasecharity to keep up-to-date with our blog posts.