Labour Politics in Non Profit Organizations: What’s the deal?

In celebration of May 1st, otherwise known as International Worker’s Day, we here at COCo would like to start some conversations about labour politics in the community sector. Our first piece, by the Immigrant Worker’s Centre on the Fight for $15, is here, and you can follow the others on our Facebook and Twitter as the month progresses.  

It’s not news that the working conditions in the non profit sector are…unique, and we aren’t the first people to write about it. To start us off, we’ve done a little roundup of some of our favourite pieces about what it can be like to work in non profits, and what we might be able to do about it. The common thread? The way we treat our workers is an important indicator of whether or not we are living our own values.

We know there are a lot of amazing things about working in our sector– including valuing the positive impact your work can have for others, and the opportunity to collaborate with others to build stronger communities and movements for social change. We cherish those aspects of our sector very much– and want to realize their full potential.

One of our all time favourite non profit blogs (Non Profit with Balls) a piece this month about how non-profits treat job-seekers… and how we might do better. It’s a great list. 

“We need to shift our perception of candidates as people who are lucky if they get a job with us, toward the belief that all of us are working toward building a better world. The success of our work depends on our people. Let’s treat everyone with consideration and respect and let’s live out our values of equity and community.”

Though framed as a short listicle, this is actually a detailed piece on Everyday Feminism about what toxic non profit work culture looks like, and how to address and survive within it. It’s well worth a read. 

“You’re not a better activist because you work for free and can’t buy food. Being ignored doesn’t make you more dedicated to the cause. You deserve to be treated with respect regardless of the issues you’re working on. You deserve to be heard and valued and paid a fair wage.”

This beautifully written and heartbreaking piece about burnout and mental health issues in social justice movements is a rare gem of student journalism– and one of the few pieces that doesn’t place the responsibility for burnout squarely on the shoulders of the individual.

During my time at McGill, I have repeatedly watched the quick deterioration of the mental health of friends who do social justice work. Somehow, the full irony of this only hit me recently. Mental health problems, which can be onset or worsened by stressful conditions, are a social justice issue; anti-oppressive organizations with work environments that damage the mental health of those involved with them are recreating oppressive conditions within their own space. In such organizations, a culture of overwork is indirectly promoted through the normalization and expectation of a dangerous work ethic – for instance, consistent sleep deprivation, and five-hour long meetings.To be clear, there are a lot of amazing things about working in the community sector– including the dedication to social change, the creativity and collaboration, the meaningfulness of the work.

Do these stories resonate? Are there other dynamics you’ve seen in the community sector? Or have you run across other writing that has resonated with you?