Written by Susan Tomlinson Schmidt, CNP
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When I was first getting into nonprofit work, I had a friend who thought I was a full-time volunteer. He was a corporate bank executive and didn’t understand what we do in the nonprofit sector. It’s 25 years later and I still see him on occasion. He always asks how my “volunteer gig” is going. How many of you have found yourself in a similar situation? Defending your career choice. Explaining that nonprofit staff do, in fact, get paid. But you can’t blame my friend or all the others in our society who don’t understand what we do.
There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to nonprofit employment. And, frankly, we as a sector haven’t done much to correct the problem. And that makes us a lot like Pit Bulls.
When you think of Pit Bulls as a breed, what do you think of? Many think Pit Bulls are vicious and untrustworthy. They have locking jaws and can be naturally aggressive toward humans. In reality, these fearful characteristics are just myths. It is a fact that Pit Bulls are one of the most slandered and misunderstood dog breeds in the world. In Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, Troublemakers, he discusses how when experts tested the temperaments of dog breeds (including the dog’s stability, shyness, aggressiveness and friendliness), Pit Bulls fared better than Beagles, Collies … and even Labradors.
Negative stereotypes do exist– at best, they keep us from getting our work done. At worst, they can rob you of the momentum needed to truly make an impact in your community.
So what can you do to change our sector’s image? Help your peers understand the truth about nonprofit careers. Whether this is doing a presentation in a class or just talking one-on-one to your roommate or friend. Everyone can play a role in getting the word out about nonprofit careers. Commit to finishing your Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential and continuing your professional development throughout your career. Credentials and continuing education are hallmarks of well-established career pathways. And finally, don’t be quiet. Take opportunities to correct misinformation about our work when you hear it. Write letters to the editor of a nonprofit news source to share positive tales of nonprofit work. If we all join the conversation, we can improve our Pit Bull image and build more recognition for our professional pursuits.