I’m a case manager for homeless youth. I make a joke of a salary, work long hours, and have to wrestle with bureaucracy at every turn just to accomplish simple tasks. Yet, there’s nothing else I’d rather do. This is not because I’m a selfless person, it’s because the positive impact I observe in the lives of these kids is worth more to me than a good salary. There is nothing noble about this; I’m simply pissed off at society for its injustice and coping with my privilege-guilt by working with an underprivileged population.
Volunteering for a nonprofit is often seen as the apex of noble sacrifice. Having recruited, trained and managed over a thousand volunteers, I can tell you the key to forming a successful, ongoing relationship between a volunteer and an organization is not to assign tasks that are extremely helpful to the organization’s mission. The key is to provide them with tasks that provide an immediate sense of personal accomplishment, regardless of actual impact.
Those without the time to volunteer often donate, but in the age of internet transparency, they usually view this donation as more of a purchase. They want to know exactly what they’ll be buying with their donation. So nonprofits make up little sponsorship packages and translate arbitrary dollar amounts into some sort of tangible impact. Your $50 helps provide GED training and testing for one homeless teenager fleeing domestic violence. Actually it melts into a pool of unrestricted funding and the nonprofit does whatever they want with it. And they need that autonomy, but the truth doesn’t make you feel special when you send in your check.