Farewell to Alms

I spoke to a former colleague who’s been looking for a job.   Like me, she has largely wasted her skills and talent in the under-compensating and degrading non-profit world, and is trying to find a new position in a market that barely exists.

“What I hate the most,” she tells me, “is how the industry treats people like me who respond to their ads.  If they shit on prospective employees like me, how do they handle their donors?”

She tells me about applying for the position of development director for a national organization with a regional office in Miami.   It’s one of those fucked-up designed-by-nerds on-line application that forces applicants to reduce their lives to twitter-length sentence fragments — and then requests uploads of résumés and cover-letter data that make their moronic tech-forms redundant anyway.

Of course, there’s a glitch, and now she needs to talk to somebody.  So she calls.

“I can’t get through to human beings, just VMs.  I try the Miami office every hour on the hour for three days, but there’s never anybody there.  And the VMs don’t explain who it is whose VM I’m leaving a message with.  It’s fucking infuriating.  How do they think a prospective donor is going to react to this?”

She sends an email to the address indicated “if there’s a problem” with the on-line application.  That email is promptly rejected as undeliverable and returned.

So she sends another email, this time to the PR manager explaining the problem.  It also fails.

By now she’s wondering, Do I really want to work for these people?

Then she tried sending an email to a general box number (info@)  and it works!  But two weeks later there’s still no response.

So she calls the national office and get a VM that invites her to dial 0 for the office directory.  But like the Florida office, there are no positions stated, so she doesn’t know if she’s talking to the Executive  Director’s  VM or the guy who follows the elephants with a push-broom and pail.  She presses a key at random and a miracle happens — somebody answers.  To whom she explains her problems.

And this person turns out to be the national HR director.  Who says, Send me your materials and I’ll direct them properly.

So she does….and the next day there’s an email from somebody who tells her she got contacted by the HR Director, and not only did she already have all the original documentation already (so why didn’t you send a confirmation, bitch?),  she had sent a fucking little auto-form to schedule her own interview “which must have been sent to your spam folder.

But it’s not too late — here’s the form, and if you still want to interview, follow directions.

Which she does — her interview is this week..

Is this any way to run a fucking business, let alone one that depends on the relationships they make with donors?

What makes the HR factotum think that emailed link went to spam — because it happens frequently?  Because it looks like spam to many servers?  They’re willing to write off applicants as collateral damage rather than handle their credentials for a high-level position professionally and personally?

The answer to these questions, of course, is Yes.  And it’s all fucking wrong as it is fucking real.

I hear shit like this all the time, and I have my own horror stories as well.  I will no longer send support checks to certain organizations whose missions I applaud, but whose customer relations have grown so horrible I feel like I’m wasting my money.  Among these are the Humane Society and Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU has one more chance.

Sure, technology is wonderful.  But it doesn’t replace the essential, personal relationship that must be established to ensure donor loyalty.  If these fucking charitable organizations haven’t got the wherewithal and common sense to deal courteously and professionally with people in the development profession itself, why would I believe they know what they’re doing with the charitable contributions they’re given?  Including mine.

Either they just don’t need the money, or they’ve forgotten  what they need to do to get it.  Dust off that thought when you pick up the newspaper and read about yet another non-profit going under for lack of funds.

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6 Responses to Farewell to Alms

  1. Ya' Gotta' Guessit says:

    A non-profit “industry”, eh?
    Sounds oxymoronic.

  2. Will B. Donne says:

    I have a dozen similar stories I could tell. I monitor the not-for-profit market closely and frequently respond to advertisements for development positions just to gauge the level of service and measure the competition. Many agencies, large and small, handle this aspect of their operation poorly, and like you, I’ve wondered how well they handle their programs and missions, let alone the money they ask for.

    PS I didn’t realize until this post you were in non-profit work yourself. I guess for professional reasons, you don’t want to get too specific.

  3. Beardsley says:

    The right response is twofold: stop supporting these organizations, and tell them why. I had a bad experience with a development executive at a museum where I had been a $500/year donor and member, so I skipped sending my check at renewal time. When the second reminder letter arrived, I wrote back to the individual and cc’d the executive director. No response from either, but sure enough, a third reminder letter arrived. I emailed back that I would consider re-upping if I got a response to my prior correspondence. I never did, and that was the end of my support.

    Years later I still get solicitations from these people. Nobody ever reached out personally, and that’s no way to run a railroad, let alone a museum.

  4. Barbara Ganousch says:

    I stopped supporting the Florida Philharmonic when I started feeling taken for granted. I never got anything from them personally, they sent impersonal emails, and nobody ever returned a phone call. Once my mom called up to ask about volunteering and they never got back to her. They’re gone now, of course, claiming they couldn’t keep above water. I’m not surprised.

  5. Ruh Roh says:

    Like everybody else, the nonprofits’ move to the information age comes at the cost of the personal touch. Look around you. People are glued to their phones and touch screens, they don’t want to interact in meat space. Rude? Off-putting? Infuriating? Tough noogies. It’s here. Get with the program, or get off the road.

  6. Flaming Yon says:

    I lost count of the number of times I’ve had to fill in some redundant form AND provide a complete resume. And then the software sort of generates its own resume from the data I typed in and I’m supposed to review it for accuracy. What’s the point? Isn’t there a better use of everybody’s time and technology? Good thing I’m filthy rich and don’t have to work. Right.

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