Working for charities and the myth of altruism

30 Nov 1999

You're not just here "to make a difference" - and that's OKAY!

Here's a controversial statement for you: "No one works for a charity out of the goodness of their own heart." Does that sound outrageous to you, or do you agree? Usually the first thing people say when I tell them that I work for a charity is just how great a person I must be to be in this 'noble' line of work. And while the polite (and socially acceptable) thing might be to smile, look humble, and say thank you – what I REALLY want to say is,
Nope. Not really.
People think that I must be an uber compassionate, super altruistic, supremely kind human being to be “making a difference” like I am through my chosen career. Of course, “goodness” is part of the reason I’m working for a charity that educates girls and women. Ultimately, I do want to see more justice, more equality, and better futures for some of the world’s most marginalized and disadvantaged women and girls. That is a powerful motivation, and I don't ever want to separate it from the work I'm doing. To be honest, I didn’t fall into my gig at One Girl by accident – even back in high school I knew that I wanted to work somewhere that was about more than just a profit. When I was younger I volunteered as a doorknocker collecting money for a few different charities, In primary school I did the 40 Hour Famine, and I was in the volunteering group in high school. I've always been a passionate believer in social justice, and I definitely wanted to make a difference and see that I could play a part in righting some of the world’s many wrongs. But back then, I had a much simpler view of the world. I thought that good intentions and compassion were enough to sustain you in your chosen career. I knew that people who worked for non-profits were largely overworked and underpaid, but I used to think that none of that mattered – because it was all for a good cause. Looking back I can see that even though I had those good intentions, I was also a little naive. Now that I’m actually working in the job that I had dreamed of having – I can see there’s so much more to it than just making a difference. See, the compassion – the “goodness of your heart” stuff is important – and it’s definitely part of what gets you there.
But what keeps you there isn’t completely altruistic – it’s the fact you get something out of your work too.
So what is it for me? What do I get out of working for One Girl? Well there are many that I could mention, but here are three that jump out at me most:
  • On a practical level, I get paid. I work another job alongside One Girl, but with both jobs put together I have enough money to live, and play. Which is pretty critical.
Of course you experience a deep sense of satisfaction when you know you're working for a good cause – but warm and fuzzies don’t pay the bills.
  • I’ve grown more as a writer, content creator and communicator in the year I’ve been One Girl’s Chief Wordsmith than anywhere else. It's been an incredible time of learning and growth, and I honestly don't think I could've been challenged or stretched in the same way in any other place. And I’ve also developed skills and gained experience that will enable me to continue working doing what I love.
  •  And that brings me to probably the biggest thing I get out of my job – which is that I simply LOVE what I do. I wake up in the morning excited to come to work, because I get to do what I love most – which is write, create, and inspire with words and stories. It makes me feel awesome, and fulfilled, and it's something that I can be proud of. It’s pretty freaking special. 
This idea of getting something out of “making a difference” doesn’t just apply to people with paid gigs in the charity sector – it’s also especially applicable for the millions of volunteers who donate countless hours, skills, and ideas to their chosen charities all over the world. While they might also be motivated by a desire to be “one of the good guys” – they also need to be able to get something out of their volunteer work. Maybe it’s a sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s an outlet for a skill or talent that they can’t use in their regular 9-5 jobs. Maybe it’s experience, or a portfolio, or a line in their resume so they can land their dream job later on. Maybe it’s the fact they get to meet and work alongside passionate, likeminded people and be part of this community. Whatever it is – all these reasons are perfectly valid, and are great reasons to volunteer and work in the charity sector. Whenever we bring new volunteers on, we ask them to fill out a “What’s in it for me” form – so we can know what they want to get out of their time with us, and we can help make it happen. It could be a type of training, or mentoring, or contacts to help with their other projects. We want to make it clear from the very beginning that we know they’re not just here purely out of the goodness of their own hearts, and that’s OKAY. Actually, it’s awesome.  Because when you strip away the layers of pretending we’re all here because we’re perfect little angels – you get to the heart of what makes being part of something like what we’re doing at One Girl so special – which is the fact you get a deep sense of satisfaction WHILE you're doing something that has a big freaking impact on the world. So I'd love to throw it over to you - if you've ever worked or volunteered for a charity, what have you gotten out of the experience? Was it something you learnt, or people you met, or things you got to do - that made it a better experience? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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