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Why I Don’t Tell People I Work at a Nonprofit

A word carving of the word .org.

Some time ago, our founder and executive director Ami Dar wrote a piece in Fast Company saying that we need a new word for “service.” He argued that “service” hides the wide range of work we actually do and doesn’t inspire people to take action:

"What would work better? Kaboom! invites people to build playgrounds. Do Something, well, does things, using language that teens use. The Sierra Club invites people to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. These are the kinds of words that can move people and get them to act. The internal jargon of grant proposals and white papers won’t do it.

When asked, most people are happy to help, pitch in, lend a hand. And given the opportunity, they will step up to build and fix and change things. But do they want to 'serve?' I am not so sure.

Over on the YNPN-Twin Cities blog, Andy Brown makes a similar argument about the word “nonprofit.” Instead of defining ourselves by the impact we have or the work we do, we are defining ourselves by what we are not.

"The next time someone asks me what I do, I’m not going to say I work at a nonprofit. I’m going to say I work for a social service organization, or an organization that is working to close the achievement gap. It’s a small change to be sure—possibly the smallest I could make—but it represents a different way of thinking about what I do and why I do it."

In addition to hiding the range and impact of the work we do, words like “service” and “nonprofit” make it easier for us to avoid touchy topics that inevitably arise when we are clear and direct about our work. Saying you work at a nonprofit is one thing; saying you work at an organization that is a corporate watchdog is another. But is this always a good thing?

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by Allison Jones

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