My Nonprofit High and Low: Both on the Same Day

Katya Andresen is hosting this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival where the theme is Nonprofit Highs and Lows, so I thought I’d share a story with you that several people have asked me about recently. If you want to know how Nonprofit Marketing Guide really got started, here’s the honest account.

Let’s flip back to March 2007 . . . way before the word “webinar” entered my daily vocabulary. It was only three years ago, but it feels like a lifetime.

Back then, I was consulting full-time for nonprofit clients, providing a variety of communications services. Though I was working with about six or seven clients at a time on average, one client, a national membership organization, represented about 75% of my workload and my income from 2003-2006. It seemed like a pretty sweet situation.

The executive director and I were friends from way back, long before either one of us began working for this organization. So while I wasn’t formally on staff, I was treated not only like the staff communications director, but also as a trusted confidante for the executive director. We had both worked in this particular field for a long time, so I knew many of the people on the board of directors and got along very well with the rest of the staff.

Then in 2006, several problems that had been isolated and somewhat independent started to coalesce. If you’ve worked in the nonprofit world for long, you’ll recognize many of these situations:

The organization developed some corporate partnerships, largely to secure much-needed funding, but some board members objected to these new relationships.

New staff were brought in to implement the programs these new partners wanted, but those staff had little history within the field. Some people considered these “fresh voices” and others considered them “flacks.”

Many people became concerned about mission-creep and where the organization was headed.

The executive director started confiding in a few select board members and funders, effectively shutting everyone else (including me) out of the conversations. What remained of our friendship quickly evaporated.

Board members on the outs with the executive director started calling me and other staff members to get information, and various dueling  camps formed within the staff and the board. Many ugly conversations took place.

By late 2006, I hated working for this client, and because they were my largest client, I hated my job. Because my work is so important to me, that meant I hated much of my life.

I knew I had two choices: I could either let the situation continue to drag on and end up having my contract terminated, probably by the summer of 2007, or I could take control of the situation and terminate the agreement myself. The first option was the financially prudent choice. It would have allowed me to continue receiving my biggest paycheck for a while longer, while I worked to pick up more clients.  But I would have been miserable for another six months.

So, I chose the second option. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, but I registered the domain nonprofitmarketingguide.com on January 24, 2007 and gave my client six weeks notice shortly after that.

On my birthday, March 31, 2007, I was broke and not sure how I would pay our bills in the coming months. I also remember being completely overjoyed to be free of this huge, depressing burden and thinking that I had given myself the best birthday present ever: freedom to start anew.

It was my worst low in the nonprofit world, because I saw how the desperation that comes from inadequate funding and the lack of honest, consistent communication can tear organizations and people apart. It was my best high in the nonprofit world, because that’s also when I started to figure out the role I really wanted to play in the nonprofit sector.

It took the rest of 2007 for me to really understand what it was that I wanted to do with NonprofitMarketingGuide.com, and in December of that year, I launched what has grown into our weekly webinar series. Instead of working with a handful of clients each year, I get to work with thousands — everyone who attends one of our webinars or my in-person workshops — and I love every minute of it. Truth be told, I’m still paying off some of the debt that carried us through 2007. But it was the best money I ever spent.

So that’s my story. The lessons?

Don’t stay in a job you hate, especially in the nonprofit world, where you have so many opportunities to do work you truly love. When you see people keeping secrets from or gossiping about other staff and board members, either shine a bright light on the situation or get out fast. Change is always hard, but in my experience, it’s nearly always good.



© 2007-2017, Nonprofit Marketing Guide. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Absolutely wonderful post! Thanks so much for your honesty. Creating the work you love and want to do is a long journey, but it’s the right thing to do and the only way to make the mark on the world that only we can do.

    Love the courage to walk away from the “big client” and follow your passion. That’s a great story!

  • Great story! Glad you were able to make something positive out of that situation, even though I’m sure it was a tough transition. I’ve learned a lot from you, so definitely keep doing what you’re doing!

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  • Robin

    I loved your honest account of the courage it can take to walk away from job security, and the realization that there are more important things in life than having a big paycheck coming in (such as peace of mind and professional joy). So many people I’ve met think that not liking their job is just part of what it means to be a working adult with bills to pay. Thanks for reminding us that it’s actually a matter of choosing your priorities, and that success can be defined in many different ways, Kivi. Great post!

  • Thank you for sharing your story! I agree, life is too short to stay in a job you dislike. I’m lucky that I enjoy my work, however, I’d like to move into the nonprofit arena eventually.

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  • Meri

    Thanks for the inspiring story. The fact that you are still paying off your debts is what makes it TRULY inspiring. Following one’s passion may take sacrifice but it can be done. Just don’t expect it to be perfect overnight.

    P.S. I love your work–you have made a difference for thousands of non-profits and thus millions of beneficiaries.

    • Meri, this probably says more about my crappy money management skills than anything — or our failure to make appropriate “lifestyle” choices given my reduced income for a good year! But yes, even given all that, I would do it all again. Totally worth it.

  • Your post is very inspiring. I’d say my nonprofit high and low was the day I was wrongfully terminated from my last job. I had started my consulting business and was working it a couple of hours in the evenings and on the weekends. After being blindsighted, I saw the termination as an opportunity to go full throttle and give it my best shot. Two years later I’m still here and growing. Thank you for showing me that social entrepreneurship does work!

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