Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Cost of Service


Those of us whose time and resources are consumed by nonprofit work are driven by doing good and serving others.  It's our religion, causes some grief, and often great sacrifice.  We like to believe that there will always be followers, who will take our place as we did for others.  But I'm worried about that assumption.
Volunteerism and community service have drawn from the ranks of those with reserve time.   Parents used their reserves to provide an enormous wave of service to their communities in the late 19th and twentieth centuries, supporting causes which benefitted their families and the future of their children.  Today, the reserve time of parents is disappearing.  Grandparents used their accumulated reserve to give back to their communities, but now find they have less available than they thought they'd have.

But an even greater threat to the nonprofit world has begun to concern me.  Beyond volunteers, we are running out of those who will work for pay within our organizations.  The conditions of the work, and the careers we offer, are not sufficient to attract and retain motivated young people.  And we are approaching the point where our excellent nonprofit managers, whose long-time dedication deserves far more than we've given them, are reaching burnout.  They are examining their ability to continue holding together our dreams, and are considering putting their own needs first for once.

That should frighten all of us into action.  We should see that change as unraveling the fabric of what holds us together.  We should re-examine the sources and levels of revenue for these organizations, and institute a new commitment which recognizes their real value.  We can't afford not to, and we don't have much time.  Every day, we're losing the best of the generation who responded to President Kennedy's call to "Ask not what your nation can do for you, ask what you can do for your nation".