(This is a repost from my Tumblr dated Nov. 4, 2014)
My former Executive Director position at the great nonprofit I recently worked for went up for grabs the other day, and I’ve been getting emails with questions from potential candidates ever since. Instead of creating a canned response for them, I thought we could chat about them here.
Am I bananas to apply?
What you likely mean by this is, “Do you think I am qualified for this job?” You are probably more qualified than I was when I applied for the position, which is completely awesome and a truly thrilling affirmation that the organization has matured in the past several years (she says while patting herself on the back). But are you bananas to apply? It’s a position as an Executive Director of a nonprofit advocacy organization. The answer is inherently, “Yes.”
If you are applying, you are bananas. Applying for a nonprofit ED position is like standing in line for a world-renowned roller coaster ride that boasts a body count. Yes, it’s bananas. Yes, you should do it anyway, because not doing so once you’ve asked yourself the question is narrowing your scope of what it means to truly live.
Why did you leave (no really, why did you leave)?
When I accepted the job five years ago, I had a mental checklist of goals that I figured would take two years to achieve. They took longer, and more priorities presented themselves along the way. After four years, I said to my fella, “I think I can do another year, maybe year and a half.” He said he couldn’t, and frankly I was relieved.
The truth is that caring about the mission, loving your work, and trying to further both in a financially constrained environment makes work/life balance … a thought exercise (at least it did for me). Others are surely better at this, but I remember watching a TED talk on work/life balance (because I recognized I didn’t have any) at 10pm one evening … before going back to work. I was tired, I was watching my niece and nephew grow older on Facebook, and I realized that I was also growing older with a salary that wouldn’t allow me to financially retire in dignity (you asked for the truth).
All that said, think about challenges in your current/former work. How do they compare with a position that actually moves social justice forward in the built environment that we as residents navigate every day? What is the point of taking a job without a challenge?
What did you love about the job?
There is so much to love.
If you give it everything, your work will matter. You will work with passionate defenders of social justice and human dignity. The people you spend each day with will be the people who care about creating a better world with others. On the good days, you will pause for a moment before you walk through your front door, and a voice will whisper to you, “Your work mattered today.” If you are doing it right, sometimes it will terrify you. You will feel that you have fallen short and let people down; you will feel this many days. This is the unspoken part of your job description: the mission is greater than you, and you cannot hold it all in your arms. And that is when you will feel gratitude for volunteers, partners, and Board members. They are your true bosses, second only to the mission.
What were your biggest challenges?
A mission is a tough master.
How is the board?
The Board is composed of dedicated volunteers who have given up time, lent their talent, and donated their treasure to the organization’s cause. First and last, your job is to thank them. It’s a collaborative sandwich on gratitude bread. Of course it is tough to work for pay for your volunteer bosses. Don’t blame the Board during tough times. Blame the IRS!
How many hours per week did you work?
Don’t ask. I had no sense of boundaries.
What do you DO all day?
This depends on you and the Board going forward. I will predict you will spend more time with spreadsheets and emails regarding scheduling meetings than you ever thought possible. This is what social change looks like. Make some coffee/tea and settle in. Two words: collaboration, diligence.
Do you have any really cool suite-mates?
Yes. Yes we do (Asian Pacific America Network of Oregon, Upstream Public Health, CAUSA, Oregon Latino Health Coalition, African Women’s Coalition, et al). Ahh! I miss the office suitemates so much!