I’ve spent the majority of my life working in the Non-profit sector in one way or another. First as a volunteer and then as an intern and finally working my way up the ranks as a person being paid to do what I love. Which was pretty cool.
Except working in those positions, killed my passion. The higher up the ranks you move, the more you’re privy to, the more you realise that things are not all they seem in the “do good” sector.
Lack of accountability
For one, funds are misappropriated. In my opinion, this is largely due to a lack of accountability without adequate monitoring and feedback to the funders who often just don’t care further than the tax breaks donating money will award them. Staff members who work on the ground are often also paid a pittance while Directors of the company are paid ridiculous amounts.
Goals move to suit the agenda
Another issue I have is hugely over inflated statistics on the actual benefits of programmes where individuals claim an outcome that hasn’t actually occurred in that exact way. Management will adjust the outcomes of programmes so that they seem more beneficial than they actually are.
Lack of ethics
I have also worked for an institution who blindly asked me to change the findings of my research project. When I refused, they simply wrote the report without including my actual analysis even though I had devised the research materials and conducted all interviews and data analysis. When I refused to bend the outcomes, they simply left my name off the report. Yup, shady as it may sound, these things do actually happen.
Untrained and unskilled staff
In almost every NGO that I’ve worked in, the management who run the organisation are often untrained in that particular field or are just individuals who start out intending to do good but often lose sight of what their intentions are and find themselves lost in the power struggles. They don’t have a grasp of the basic theories of social development. They aren’t trained to understand the importance of bottom up development and asking people what their needs are instead of just informing them of what they will be receiving. Like libraries in townships where individuals need and want toilets more urgently for example.
Draining and exhausting work
To be honest though, the main reason I left working in the NGO sector wasn’t because of bad-management but because it was exhausting and often thankless work. You go in to work day in and day out and you are surrounded by so many people who you are powerless to help that it feels like your efforts are a drop in the ocean and a waste of time.
When you are surrounded by children who don’t eat three solid meals, often don’t even eat one and yet come to school and are expected to learn, your heart breaks. When the children in your classes have no shoes on their feet and it’s the middle of winter, your soul dies a little more. When a 6-year-old child casually tells you that “a gangster shot my daddy and now my daddy is dead” and you have no words to respond, bit by bit, you feel less and less empowered. Less and less like waking up and going back is worth it.
The truth is, I know the work I did changed the lives of many but the sacrifice I was forced to make every day was feeling helpless, depressed, useless and powerless. Empowering people will always be my true love but the older I get, the more I realise that I really am just too soft for this field. You’ve got to be tough. You can’t save everyone, and often, the work you do goes unnoticed. It’s worth it, but it’s tough and the truth is just that this field isn’t for everyone.
**Disclaimer: Of course, this isn’t what it’s like in all non-profits and there are many that do incredible work. This is an account of my personal experience, working in various organisations in the non-profit sector. **