Why do we believe that we must sacrifice to do good in the world? It’s a false choice, but one that is reinforced at many levels throughout the non-profit sector.

My mentee graduated Brown with honors and had to take out a loan so she could accept a nonprofit position working with low income communities in the South. She lives with a million roommates and has a second job to pay her rent. I’ve met social entrepreneurs who forgo salaries and use their savings to the point of facing eviction. These are characteristics celebrated by the sector and championed by foundations and philanthropists alike.

In the private sector, there is a more established risk/reward structure to compensate those who invest in the growth of a business. Perhaps you don’t get paid up front, but there is pay-off. In the nonprofit sector, workers donate the social return on investment back to society at large- without a tax deduction.

Like it or not, we aren’t solving the worlds problems in a single lifetime and our change work has to be a marathon not a sprint. Plus I am a big believer in walking the walk. Do we really want to lift people out poverty, eradicate disease, or end violence so we can all work ourselves to death?

What does it really mean to be dedicated to the cause? Does it mean you don’t see your friends? Does it mean you ignore your partner or spouse? Miss your kids bedtime? Working passionately for a purpose is amazing, but being a martyr for a cause – no matter how powerful the cause – doesn’t make the world a better place.

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