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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

 
How to explain your non-profit job to your family this holiday season

by David Atkins

Non-profit activist and talented writer Lucas Zucker has some advice for young non-profit workers this holiday season:

It’s that wonderful time of the year when young adults prepare to have public judgment of their life and career decisions become a major topic of conversation among a large group of people they barely know (i.e. their extended family).

So, if you’re a budding medical doctor, congratulations! You have a commonly known, widely socially accepted and financially lucrative career path and can stop reading now.

On the other hand, if you make less money than some of your friends in food service, working at an organization no one has ever heard of, for a cause that’s too political to be seen as polite dinner conversation in the first place, here’s a helpful guide to help you navigate the awkward conversation.

1. “This will look great on my grad school application!”

Many of the olds are under the impression that getting a graduate degree is a smart economic choice. Whether you’re really planning on it or not, allow your family members to believe you’re going to grad school. This will keep a glimmer of hope alive in their mind that whatever it is you’re doing now is only a temporary transitional phase. If there’s anything we learned as teenagers, it’s that the only reason any sane person would actually care about helping their community is to accumulate feel-good credentials to use on their college applications.

2. The bait and switch

Sure, some of your college friends working in the private sector may be making 2-5 times as much money as you, but you’ve got a solid job and that’s more than a lot of people can say. This tactic taps into the fundamental emotion behind your family’s scrutiny: Fear. Here’s how it works. First, when asked about your life, explain how you’re living in a tent in Zuccotti Park or are taking a brief holiday break from chaining yourself to ancient redwoods. After the horrified backlash, tell them actually you have a job with a nonprofit organization. In comparison, it’ll sound like investment banking.

3. Start a political argument

Say you’ve got conservative family members who even if they could understand the mechanics of what you do at this “job” of yours, would be deeply morally opposed to it. Now I know nobody likes to argue politics with their family. But if you distract them with some sweeping abstract debate about immigration, LGBT rights, Obamacare, etc. you can totally avoid having a specific conversation about yourself and your job.

4. The Obama

On the other hand, say you’ve got a progressive family who is down with the overall idea of someone out there saving the world, they just would prefer you to be doing something a little more… professional. Most people know Barack Obama did some fluffy nonprofit thing in his youth. And being the president of the United States is about as professional as you get. This one works kind of like the grad school tactic, but instead of advanced education, you tell them how your current job is preparing you to run for public office. Your grandma will get at least a few years of bragging to her friends before she catches on to your bullshit.
Lucas has five more like this, and they're all great. On a somewhat more serious note, Lucas' piece on the challenges of attracting and keeping talented young people in community organizing is also an excellent read.

We need to keep folks like Lucas in the movement. Without a dedicated funding structure keeping them working toward social justice, the Lucas Zuckers of the world are going to hit 35, realize they need to actually provide for a family, and take all their talent and training into a dead-end corporate job. That would be a tragic waste. The world needs a lot more community organizers, and a lot fewer corporate jockeys writing ad copy.


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