If you’re working for a Jewish nonprofit, it’s entirely probable that you’ve seen the “Working at a Nonprofit” site, featuring images from TV and film – which themselves don’t really have anything to do with actually working at a nonprofit –juxtaposed with text headings to illustrate the challenges and frustrations of nonprofit professional life.
For instance, “When you are in a meeting, scheduling a meeting, about the next meeting,” features a clip of Mad Men’s Peggy Oleson slamming her head into a desk. (We’ve all been there.)
This piece of social commentary appears courtesy of a blogging platform called Tumblr, which you should probably know about. (If you’re already fluent in Tumblr, feel free to continue at the start of the next paragraph, or continue to see how I manage to explain something that’s so clearly lacking an “e.”) For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Tumblr is a site designed as a simple style of blog; while it can focus on text as content (like the recent, brilliant and self-explanatory “Life of a Stranger Who Stole My Phone”), most “Tumblrs” focus on images, video or a series of gifs, moving image combos that recall the flip book or early film technology (named - like a .doc - after the file’s extension, .gif). If you have Photoshop, you can strip video down to a few frames and make a gif.
While some people create .gifs just because they can, others are turning them into an art form, entertainment or political commentary like the “Binders Full of Women” meme that popped up during the Presidential Debates, or social commentary like the above Nonprofit Tumblr. And while it’s all in good fun and often displays an immediate brilliance, seizing some phrase or pop culture figure particularly ripe for humor or spoofery, the “Working in a Nonprofit” one struck me deeply.
Although the name of the blog is "Working in a Nonprofit," it's really about what's not working in nonprofits. Posts focus on challenges like higher-ups taking three weeks to return an email; being expected to take a paycut because it’s a cause you believe in; the idea some people believe that nonprofit workers shouldn’t be paid at all for the work they do; the bureaucratic process, and the frustration of having to get approval on literally every event detail; someone saying, “we should start a committee for this,” and the list goes on and on. The moments documented in this microsite are designed to tickle and have resonated deeply with nonprofit workers everywhere, but the tickle for me has felt more like a severe ache – an increasingly disruptive discomfort that prompts you to finally get a doctor to take a look at it. Or if you prefer the metaphor of a social condition rather than a medical one, consider it a call to action, a prod to do something about it.
I'm not trying to be a Tumblr killjoy, and I certainly don’t want to oversimplify the challenges of trying to change the entire nonprofit structure (or even the entire Jewish nonprofit structure). But I am suggesting that this blog presents us with a checklist of things to improve - not entirely unlike the "Al Chet" confessional that we say over and over again in the Yom Kippur liturgy. Perhaps in the spirit of this season of reflection and of assessing our interpersonal behaviors, we should also try to tackle the manageable tasks toward rounding the rough edges of our professional nonprofit culture.
Continue with part two, "(What's Not) Working at a Nonprofit: Tumblr as Blueprint for Change," to read about some of the specific challenges mentioned in the Tumblr and my proposals for improvement.