For my Business Seminar class, I had to do a write about a question that I wanted to answer. So I chose this one. Thanks in advance for reading.
How Can I Make a Living Working in the Non-Profit World?
It took me a very long time to understand exactly what a non-profit organization did. The first time I really knew about one was To Write Love On Her Arms. To Write Love On Her Arms, often written shorthanded as TWLOHA, is an organization “To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.”
My first introduction to this organization was through the band Switchfoot. A song of theirs, Love Is The Movement, is used on a shirt for To Write Love On Her Arms. Being a big fan of the band, I began to research the organization and see what exactly they did and what their mission was.
While depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide were never things that I personally struggled with during my life, I was really intrigued with the idea of a “business” whose goal was to support and help other people. Of course now I understand why, with Empathy being my number 4 Strength, but at the time I didn’t really realize why I was so intrigued with the idea of non-profit work.
It wasn’t until college that I truly began to find a heart for the work of non-profits. My freshman year of college, To Write On Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski spoke on campus in LaDue Auditorium. It was during this event that I really began to realize how interested I was at potentially making a career out of non-profit work. Jamie tells the story of how the organization began; I’ve included an excerpt from the story.
“Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.
“She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “F*CK UP” large across her left forearm. The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.”
Jamie told the entire story of Renee Yohe that night, and it stuck with me like no story I’ve ever heard before. He said that the reason they started selling T-Shirts was to pay for her treatment. That simple entrepreneurial spirit that Jamie had helped save the life of one of his best friends, and has helped save the lives of countless others over the past five years.
Once Jamie spoke at Greenville, wheels immediately started spinning in my head. It was then that I knew that I needed to find a way to help people. The problem I was running into was I didn’t know who I was going to help or how I was going to help them, and that is probably more important than the idea of helping people.
The idea of helping people has always been something that came very easy to me. Only months after my birth, my older brother was diagnosed with Autism. In 1989, Autism was still something that was not well understood and was not nearly as commonly diagnosed as it is today. This made every day tasks like eating out for dinner, going grocery shopping, and especially going to school a very difficult task for Michael and our family as a whole. Despite the fact that I was 2 years younger than my brother, I was quickly hurled into the role of the big brother who had to look out for him all the time. Although this is something I could have easily resented my parents for doing to me, I knew it was a situation that God had placed me in and that it would help set my course for the rest of my life.
Growing up, I would constantly do what was asked of me, whether that meant driving 30 minutes away to grab something from the grocery store for dinner or getting a glass of soda from the kitchen for one of my parents.
During my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I was given the opportunity to go to San Pedro Sula, Honduras for a week each year. During this time, I really grew in my Christian walk and I was rudely awoken to the fact that money does not equal happiness. It was startling to see how little the people in this small town had. What was more startling was the fact that a lot of these people were happier with their lives than most Americans that I knew back home. The simplicity of their lives made it easier for them to stop wanting the next great thing and allowed them to appreciate their family and friends and grow closer to God as well.
Upon my return to America after the second trip, I was really frustrated with the concept of money and wealth. I struggled with the idea of people earning huge salaries, buying lots of expensive toys, and still being incredibly unhappy. What was the point of getting a job you hated, making way too much money, and buying things that still left you feeling dissatisfied with life? I knew that there was more to life than simply earning a large salary and buying material things.
As I had previously mentioned, Jamie Tworkowski’s talk on campus left me feeling motivated, inspired, and that I could actually do something that mattered with my life. Another influential talk I was able to hear was from TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycosksie. In October of this past year, I was able to hear Blake speak at Catalyst in Atlanta, GA about how TOMS was started, what inspired him, and what keeps him motivated to continue doing what he is doing.
One of the very interesting things that most people might not know about TOMS Shoes is that it is not a non-profit organization. According to their Frequently Asked Questions page on their website, “TOMS Shoes is a for-profit company with giving at its core. With our One for One mission, TOMS transforms our customers into benefactors, which allows us to grow truly sustainable giving efforts rather than depending on fundraising for support. This model has enabled us to give more shoes at a rapid rate and created thousands of customer-philanthropists along the way.”
Inside of the TOMS business is a non-profit sector called Friends of TOMS, and they are responsible for coordinating with giving partners that are located all around the globe and work with them to organize and Shoe Drops happen.
During Blake’s talk at Catalyst, I was able to take some notes that made the biggest impact on me. One of his first points was that giving is good for business. People like to feel that their purchases or that what they are buying into is helping other people. He also talked a lot about his new book, Start Something That Matters. In his book, he talks about how his new personal mission is “to influence other people to go out into the world and have a positive impact, to inspire others to start something that matters, whether it’s a for-profit business or a nonprofit organization.”
The final organization that has influenced my career decisions is a relatively new Non-Profit organization called Hello Somebody. Their website reads “In the Spring of 2009 one of the original Co-Founders of Hello Somebody, was on a mission trip in Honduras. While feeding people there, he encountered children who preferred food over toys. His host, Jimmy Hughes’ tagline when he spoke was ‘hello somebody,’ which he used almost as a question for people to become aware of those around them who were in need. This tagline would ring through his dreams, in the voices of the children he had met…’Hello Somebody. Is anyone listening?’ His call to action was to feed a million meals in one calendar year.”
Today, Hello Somebody focuses on four areas in order to provide for children: food, education, hydration and freedom.
My first introduction to them was through AgapeFest last year and I was floored by how much they do and how well they do it. When I heard that they would be coming back this year, I got really excited again. When I spoke to the AgapeFest cabinet member who was their contact this year, she informed me that he had mentioned that they had recently lost a few of their full time staff members and some of the folks they had spoken to about joining their team were asking for salaries that Hello Somebody would not be able to provide. I took this as my opportunity to send my resume and ask to join the team at Hello Somebody. Less than 12 hours later, I received a call from the Co-Founder and we talked on the phone for nearly 30 minutes about a potential job for me within the organization. I hope to hear about whether or not I am hired within the next few weeks.
So to finally reach my question: how can I make a living working in the non-profit world? At this point in the game, I am assuming that I will not be starting my own non-profit organization and that I will be working for one. Non-profits typically do not pay as highly as a job that I could also be qualified for, such as an agent for a booking agency. However, I have resolved to believe that money isn’t everything. My success as a college graduate and a working member of America is not defined by the digits in my salary, but rather by the amount of people I am able to help by doing my job well.
Another option that I am definitely open to is potentially starting up my own non-profit or for-profit business with a cause à la TOMS Shoes. This option is certainly riskier both financially and job security-wise, but I feel that this would be an incredibly rewarding process. I love the idea of being an entrepreneur and starting something from scratch and seeing it come to fruition (Futuristic is my number 1 strength), so I could definitely see myself starting and running my own business. Organizations like Hello Somebody, Not For Sale, and many others could be classified as “non-profit aggregators” in that they provide product or services with each product or service going towards an already created and good standing non-profit and benefiting their work. This helps to not only promote your organization but to help the beneficiary organization as well.
In conclusion, I would like to refer to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is speaking to the rich man about how to get into heaven. Jesus tells him in verse 22, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
I feel that the best way for me to do as Jesus has commanded is to enter the workforce with this as my job description.