The day I first watched Dan Pallotta’s TED talk “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong" –– I began reshaping the way I consider money in the scheme of my career.
If you haven’t already checked it out, queue it up on your next coffee break –– it’s worth it.
For the 95 percent of you who won’t do that, here’s the gist:
In this talk, Pallotta is like, “Hold the phone, peeps.”
His remarks should be the anthem of social impact professionals everywhere.
First off, if nonprofits, charities, or other social cause organizations are to operate on a shoestring budget for everything but their direct impact, guess how fast those organizations grow (and thus, make more impact)?
Guess how long it takes them to raise significant money?
Long ass time.
Guess who ultimately loses in this situation?
Basically, we have this pretty backward, old school way of thinking about organizations and people that do good –– we categorize them as martyrs, suffering for their cause.
They have to hemorrhage out all of their humanity, without expecting compensation.
They have to suffer, dammit!
Is it any wonder that we have an excess of lawyers these days?
As Pallotta points out in his talk, if you wanna make an impact on a cause you care about, you’re better off going to work for some soulless corporation to make bank, tossing massive support towards the nonprofit of your choice, and make all the decisions as a prominent board member, while the CEO squeaks by on a salary that’s sufficiently modest to be socially accepted.
Yet, simultaneously, we are totally, paradoxically okay with evil corporations ripping apart the environment, using slave labor, driving small businesses to bankruptcy, and tanking our economy at their whimsy.
(Haven't you seen You’ve Got Mail –– I mean –– The Big Short?)
Does anyone else see a big fucking problem here? I do.
This warped mentality around social causes and money (or rather, near poverty) has caused passionate individuals around the world to accept jobs they don’t actually want based purely around the fact that they want to, I don’t know,
pay off their student loans,
buy a car,
start a family,
purchase a house,
or otherwise live day to day in financial peace rather than constant, looming debt-soaked peril.
What’s even more troubling –– this mentality isn’t only espoused by onlookers. It’s infiltrated those working in social fields as well.
Recently, I caught up with a friend, and as we were chatting, she mentioned that more service members and volunteers should be able to articulate what they do in a clear, succinct manner.
“Like an elevator pitch. Although, ugh, that phrase is gross and business-y.”
At first, I couldn’t help but think, “Why is being able to communicate your professional mission clearly and quickly such a disgusting concept for social impact professionals?”
I later realized it’s because we’re programmed very early on: business = slimy, untrustworthy, and greedy.
Depending on where in the world you live, as early as childhood or as late as college, we start getting sequestered off into our little professional tracks.
Teachers on this conveyor belt, programmers over here, writers get in this line, doctors come this way...
Soon, we’re all separated out into our groups, where we learn how undeniably awesome our path is, get to know its special quirks, and possibly most importantly, get schooled on which other tracks we are supposed to hate.
(Here’s a fun game: call an engineer by the wrong discipline and watch the smoke bellow from their ears.)
So, if you’re planning on becoming a social worker, guess who gets a lot of your ire?
Yep, (big) business people. And anything that’s even remotely connected to them.
In fact, many social impact professionals –– especially young ones –– don’t even try to negotiate their salaries! They just assume “I’m not going to get paid that much anyhow, and they probably couldn’t pay me much more than what they’re offering.”
AHHHHHH brb while I go punch a pillow.
Ok, I’m back.
So we, individuals who care about positively impacting the world, get sucked into a vortex of not only accepting that we will never make much money, but also believing that’s what we deserve.
After all, we chose this field. We could have been engineers, plastic surgeons, or Silicon Valley wunderkinds, but we wanted to help people.
It is not wrong to want to be paid fairly for the work that you do.
It is not gross if you think entrepreneurially about your career.
It is not pointless to negotiate with your employers.
It is not morally corrupt if you want to find a way to make money from doing good for the world.
As long as you are not taking advantage of other people in the name of advancing your own wealth (like the guy we elected president, but that’s a blog post for another day), it is not a bad thing to factor finances into your professional goals, and work to shape your career in a way that suits the lifestyle you want to live.
In fact, you should.
For as long as money is the currency that drives the world economy, love it or hate it, we are all somehow subject to it.
We all have to figure out how to play the money game in a way that makes us content and able to live the lifestyle we desire while maintaining our morals.
That includes thinking about money and acting strategically when it comes to your job and your salary.
If we, social impact professionals, want to be taken seriously as active participants at the global decision-making table, we have got to change our attitude about it.
This doesn't mean abandoning our priorities; it means not being a head-in-the-sand ostrich about finances.
It means beating the fatcats at their own game in the name of positive social change.
We cannot treat money as an absolute evil, but rather as tool that can help us further our individual and collective missions toward bettering the world.
Would you expect a car to run without gas? Nope.
So, why do you think that your attention to money, the thing that makes all your basic needs possible, should be an ugly afterthought?
Remember, you don’t have to love money.
It is, in fact, a topic that gives me the strongest of headaches. (See: Gina vs. Turbo Tax, 2017 Edition.)
But I’ll be damned if I will let the real greedy sumbitches who only care about money tip the scales so far in their own direction that those who deserve to be compensated fairly are not.
Greed isn’t the only problem here, though.
Take your piece.
I ask you, dear reader, to stand up for yourself, learn to recognize your value and own it.
Never let society, your friends, your employer, your parents, your dog, or any other significant being in your life tell you that you don’t deserve a decent salary for your work.
And if you don’t know how to make that happen, ask me. I’ve got ideas.
Now that I’ve descended from my soapbox, a final anecdote:
A few years ago, I was at a networking event where I met a girl who made my list of Top 5 People Who Pissed Me Off.
She asked me what I did. When I told her I taught ESL, she said,
“Ohhhhh, cute! My grandma does that in her free time. Do you get paid?”
I swallowed the Mean Girls-esque surge of fiery rage begging me to lunge at her like a cheetah attacking a gazelle.
No, instead of making internet fame through a hard tackle, I gritted my teeth, and told her:
“ Yes. Yes I (FUCKING) am.”
Can you imagine asking people who don’t work in social impact fields if they get paid for the work that they do?
Actually, no. Don’t just imagine it –– do it.
The next time you meet a lawyer, DJ, photographer, artist, mechanic, or other professional tell them it’s cute and ask them if they work for free.
Let me know what they say.
If you liked this article, you might also like: Be a Non-Conformist... Profitably
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.