Archive for the ‘Sherry and Mark’ Category

The fleecing of idealism? Salaries in the nonprofit world

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

I’ve been thinking for awhile about how I want to comment on this Nicholas Kristof blog post, as well as his preceding column, regarding money, salaries, and the international nonprofit world. There are a few different issues at work here: whether nonprofits should be run more like businesses; whether charity and profit can can happily (and morally) co-exist; and whether nonprofit and humanitarian organizations are too far removed from, or not concerned enough about, providing their staff competitive, liveable salaries and professional training and opportunities for career advancement.

As for the issue of “nonprofits being run like businesses,” like Kristoff and Charlie MacCormack, head of Save the Children and profiled in our book, I am ambivalent, probably because I don’t know enough about running a nonprofit to offer a solid opinion. If running a nonprofit like a business means the organization will be run more effectively and have more resources to accomplish its mission and spread the word about its work and pay its hard working employees better, well then, that seems like a good (if unrealistic) thing. If running a nonprofit like a business leads to lavishly paid executives and poor management, as Kristof points out has happened in many a business like Citigroup, well then, that seems like a bad thing. I know that Sherry has very specific opinions about this idea and I look forward to hearing them.

What I have very specific opinions about, as a young professional trying to build not only his career but financial house as well, is the third issue: nonprofit compensation and professional training. Kristof’s post dredged up in me a recurring frustration (that I know is shared by many young people) of how we can balance the desire for a career in international education, exchange, and development nonprofits (or any nonprofits, for that matter) and the desire for a respectable, living wage. This struggle is not new and has been chronicled, codified, and ultimately vented about. MacCormack cuts straight to the issue in his comments featured on Kristof’s blog post:

I am convinced that humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children are too far over in the opposite direction — our uncompetitive salaries make it almost impossible for people to develop real careers; our under-investment in staff development hampers performance.

It really can’t be reasonably argued that nonprofits are not severely lacking in the salaries (and often professional development) they provide their employees. Okay. So how can this be fixed? Kristof (and MacCormack) argue that a shift in the nonprofit mindset, especially when it comes to donors, is necessary. Currently there is too much scrutiny from donors on overhead—any funds not spent directly on the mission, but rather on results-oriented monitoring and evaluation or staff salary and development, is viewed negatively and tantamount to the cardinal sin of nonprofits, “mission-drift.” A realignment of the mindset held by donors (and management), and consequently the use of more resources on things like advertising and assessment and staff compensation, will lead to a more accountable and transparent (and self-aware) organization with a happier, well-taken care of staff, all of which undoubtedly will lead to better performance in pursuit of the mission.

All of this seems to be right on. However, I would argue that at least two other deeply embedded aspects of the nonprofit culture need to shift, in conjunction with what Kristof proposes, for things to really start getting better, especially us young people, the “successor generation.”


Love, Kind Of

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

I am a big fan of the falsetto. Merry Christmas.

To smog or blue skies?

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Blogging will be from China for the next nine days, as I leave tomorrow on a Georgetown College Dean’s delegation to Shanghai and Beijing.  We’ll be engaging several Chinese universities (Fudan, Beijing, and Renmin, to name a few) in various partnerships and outreach activities. More on all that once I’m there.

For now, the first of what will undoubtedly be several James Fallows references.  Fallows has, for the Atlantic and for the past two years, chronicled anything and everything about China and his life there, including the state of pollution in Beijing.  Here’s to hoping for skies a little like this, on September 12:

I’m not necessarily hopeful, though, given the state of the skies in Beijing today:

I suppose we shall see. Until China.

The Protege is dead

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

In Working World, I argue that the terminology of “mentor” and “protege” is archaic and not up-to-speed with my generation, the younger generation, the “on-demand” generation.  I even go so far as to suggest that the whole idea of a mentor taking a protege under his or her wing is dead.

So it’s ironic that I’ve found myself, in the presentations Sherry and I have been giving in connection with Working World, more or less reversing course and admitting that I have indeed benefited from the counsel of mentors throughout my career (Sherry being a prime one) and thus I am, in fact, a protege.  I still firmly believe that the terminology of “mentor-protege relationship” is outdated and stuffy and you won’t find me readily throwing around these terms.  But I’ve found that once you get past any generational or personal bias against the terms, you’ll find that mentors are in no way dead for the on-demand generation.

It’s also kind of ironic then, given my aversion to these terms, that for the past seven years, I’ve been driving a Mazda Protege. It might also be ironic (it was certainly dismaying and the main reason blogging for me has been nonexistent in the past several days), since I have argued that the protege is dead only to realize that the protege is really alive, that my trusty Protege is now in fact dead. I know this is all a bit of stretch, but I wanted to be able to eulogize my car and so needed a way to relate it to careers in international affairs.  It’s a pretty good effort, I think.

The Protege and I were in an accident on Sunday on the way home from Thanksgiving.  Nothing too serious, just a hard rear-ender really.  Everyone was fine and at first glance at the damage on the exterior, I figured the Protege would pull through just fine.  Turns out the damage underneath was a bit more extensive than anyone imagined, repair costs began to exceed Kelly Blue Book values, and the Protege is no more.

It was a great car. The Protege stuck with me through the best and worst—through long, stinky road trips in college, through my time abroad while it waited patiently in my parents’ driveway, through the series of cavernous potholes that DC calls roads.

RIP, trusty green Protege. I hope I was a worthy Mentor for you.

Cincinnati’s gift to the world: cornhole

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

With some things knocking around in my brain that I want to get out, I’ve been trying to grab onto a few substantive thoughts and corral them into a semi-coherent post.  Alas, at ten-to-five on the day before Thanksgiving, with the office already deserted, tis not to be.  I’ll save the substance for later.

For now, one last thing before before I get in the car and drive home to Cincinnati for the holiday. I’d actually stumbled across this G.L. Hoffman post (G.L. Hoffman being the chairman of back in early September before we’d even launched the Working World blog and put it in the archives for later. Now, as I prepare to head back to the birthplace of cornhole (Cincinnati, in case that wasn’t clear), seems like to the perfect time to resurrect it. My favorite of Hoffman’s six reasons why he loves his 28-and-under colleagues:

6. They can organize anything, and love to just get together. Certainly, there are “groups,” cliques even; but I am struck by how many softball teams we have, how many parties they seem to organize, and even the stupid bean bag game they have organized in the parking lot.

Nothing stupid about cornhole. Happy Thanksgiving:

A personal reaffirmation: banging my head on the wall for international careers

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Over at The Atlantic, Ta’Nehisi Coates, who I sort of read before but am now reading quite a bit more, laments the laziness of writers who don’t engage a subject enough to come at it with any kind of originality. He specifically gets worked up by those who use the now-hackneyed “team of rivals” to describe Obama’s early appointments. To him, this is tantamount to: “I quit. I refuse to respect my subject enough to think about what he specifically represents.” Coates continues:

The best thing about the human brain is that it’s original. None of us think the same. When thinkers amd (sic) writers refuse to employ that originality, when they opt against telling us what is particular, what is specific, what is unique about this moment in time, when they decide to go with the easiest received wisdom at hand, as opposed to deliberating, as opposed to banging their heads on the wall until they arrive at something new, than they are not writers or thinkers any more, but henchmen in the employ of propagandists.

I want to join him on his soap box even while I am humbled by his accusation. I am certainly one who has fallen into the Rancor pit of writing in (meaningless) cliche, especially when it comes to writing on international careers, a fairly new endeavor for me. “Cast the net wide.” “See what’s out there.” “Extend your network.” “Follow your gut.” Do these things really mean anything beyond the worn-out image or association that comes with them? Perhaps they mean something to me, the writer, when I use them, though because the phrases have already been beaten into the ground by repetitious use, they may come to mean something completely different when digested by a reader. And thus, my job of honestly communicating a thought about careers in international education, exchange, and development has not been done– largely because I have not taken the time or energy to express what I am thinking or feeling in any way other than the most expedient.

The point, brought on by Mr. Coates’ mini-rant: a reminder to challenge myself, to bang my head on the wall, in order to make original and unique contributions to this ongoing discussion of international careers, rather than simply say what is easiest.

DC v. South Bend: does location really matter?

Monday, November 24th, 2008

There were a few points during my presentation at the University of Notre Dame’s “Contributions” career event last Tuesday when I wondered if I’m really a lot older than I like to think. Case in point: I wove into my presentation, when talking about the importance of trying to uncover your cause when you search for a job, this clip from the influential and timeless cinematic classic, Office Space:

I showed this not only because it is actually relevant to a point I was trying to make (in Working World, Sherry and I talk about two different ways to go about finding your cause: the “Magic Wand Wand Test” and the “Million Dollar Question”), but also because I think it’s pretty damn funny. Now, I know Office Space is (it’s hard to believe) more than ten years old, but I also thought it was one of those cult classics that regardless of age is something that every college student has seen and would appreciate. Thus, I expected laughter, or at the very least some amused and appreciative chuckles, at my inclusion of this video.

Instead the reaction I got was: blink, blink. I admonished the crowd: “Come on, you guys have got to know this movie. I’m only 28. I’m not that old.” But I later realized it wasn’t just my (sometimes lame) attempts at humor and levity that got little reaction. The audience spent most of the presentation in what looked like a state of semi-stunned silence. It’s not that they weren’t listening or engaged, I don’t think– they were just listening and engaged in a way that I wasn’t quite accustomed to after having done a number of similar presentations to students and interns around DC.


Mentoring: Paying it Forward

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to drive out to Gaithersburg, Maryland and visit my mentor, Dr. William Olson, and his wife Betsy.  They live in an apartment at Asbury, an attractive assisted living facility.  Bill recently celebrated his 88th birthday.  We no longer have our monthly breakfasts at the Cosmos Club so our occasional visits are particularly special. 

I thought a lot about Bill and other mentors who have contributed so much to my own career as I read this article from the November 2008 issue of “Associations Now,” published by the American Society of Association Executives and the Center for Association Leadership.

Seeing Bill on Saturday reminded me of all of the ways he helped me these past 25 years – inviting me to write a chapter for a book he was editing, offering to be my primary sponsor nominating me for membership in the Cosmos Club, counseling me when I considered a job change…

There is no way I can ever repay him, but I can help others the way he helped me.  When I invited Mark to coauthor Working World, I was doing what one of our profilees termed “paying it forward.”  One of the marks of a true professional is that she or he is conscious of the debt owed to others for the teaching, training, and encouragement received.  Take a moment as Thanksgiving approaches to thank a mentor.  I’m so glad I can still tell Bill how much I have benefitted from his wisdom and counsel.  Last Saturday I got to tell him again how, though I cannot properly pay him back, I’m doing my best to “pay it forward.”

Nothing better than when your mom pulls out the camera

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Sherry and I participated in two Working World events last week, both of which I neglected to post on over the weekend as I had planned. I blame the sudden appearance in DC of my old friend Alex and his wife Di (on a last minute trip from London), which led to a much, much later Saturday night than originally planned. But I digress….

The first event took place last Monday and was hosted by our shared alma mater, American University, and more specifically by the master’s degree program from which I received my “piece of paper,” International Communication. The second was on Thursday and my current home turf, Georgetown’s campus, hosted by our benefactors at GU Press, as well as the Georgetown University Bookstore. These were similar events—round table type conversations with groups of 20-30 students, undergraduate and graduate alike—that began with a short spiel from Sherry and I on our book, then ended with the real meat: Q & A and discussion with the participants. A good crop of insightful, thoughtful, sometimes downright challenging questions were raised, buoying my hopes (not that they ever really fell, but I like the word “buoy”) that this book and blog are needed and wanted. A few of the highlights:

How can I convince my parents that my plan to work/volunteer abroad after college is not only a viable first step for my career, but also a move that follows my passions, not a way to put off the inevitable or delay the real world? (from GU event)


Expand your notion of the international

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Franca Gargiulo, head of the international marketing and management firm Avenir Monde in Monterey, CA, makes an important comment on Sherry’s and my discussion on why it’s so hard to get a job in international affairs. Expand your view of what we typically, and perhaps too narrowly, think of as “international jobs,” Franca says:

My only thought on the comments of how to expand a job search is not to overlook the “non international” job in private industry. In many cases, sales and marketing positions at the junior level require much interaction with key customers, vendors, etc. and this will, de facto, include a huge global constituency. The title of the position may not say “international” but you can be sure that if you are acting as a program manager or coordinator, one will have a huge array of global exposure. This kind of experience in the private sector is worth its weight in gold and can be just as complelling as those jobs/positions with international organizations. The key is reading between the lines and asking questions about the position and the type of interaction one would be having in the role. So the message here — take a look at some hidden gems that might just have a description of “sales coordinator” as a title. Sales for any firm is 50% international!

Why is it so hard to get a job in international affairs? Mark’s take

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

I struggle with Sherry’s assertion that sometimes it’s better to settle. She is correct to point out that the difficulties of our current economy are the grim truth, even though that truth, in the words of one 23-year old international job seeker I know, “kind of makes me want to kill myself.” So he was being a bit dramatic, but still, the comment is telling. Yet, despite these economic difficulties, I’m still not sure that the right advice is: “Take whatever you can get.”

I’ve struggled with this question for a while, even before it came out that the country, apparently, has no money. When I was searching for my first job out of grad school in 2005, I interviewed for a program assistant position at a well-known international education organization. I was concerned that the position might not be what I was looking for and that I was overqualified for it, but I figured I should go ahead and give it a shot. I came out of the interview, however, certain that it wasn’t the job for me, that I was overqualified for this entry-level position, and that what I actually wanted was the position of one of my interviewers, the program associate who was at the next level up.


Why is it so hard to get a job in international affairs? Sherry’s take

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

In promoting Working World, we have participated in a number of round table discussions, often with interns at international nonprofits over sandwiches and soda. It has been striking to note that all too often the first question raised in these sessions is, “Why is it so hard to get a job in international affairs?” Today, Sherry gives her take on that question, followed by Mark tomorrow.

To answer this question, we have to start with the reality that the volume of jobs lost in the current economy affects every industry. The uncertain financial situation makes many people in most sectors cautious. For managers there is a temptation to postpone filling positions until revenue estimates are more predicable.

There is also tremendous competition for even entry level jobs because millennials, the current generation, are — thankfully — idealistic, and grasp the challenges of living in a world Tom Friedman describes as “hot, flat, and crowded.” And because they comprehend the gravity of these challenges, many have a well-developed desire to make a difference in that world. They are drawn to the type of careers we talk about in Working World.