Since I graduated from college, I have been working as a domestic violence advocate in the Greater Boston area. As a young grad entering the workforce, I had no clue how to navigate a new career. Along the way, I have picked up a few gems of advice and wisdom. Here are eight things that I have learned while working in the nonprofit sector.
1. You are an employee first and a “movement” builder second.
When I moved to Boston, I started working in the domestic violence field, and it welcomed me with open arms — it was love at first sight. During that time, I became so caught up in building a supportive movement for domestic violence survivors that I started to neglect my own work-life balance. I hit a point where I was burnt out, tired, and bitter. What I failed to realize then is that I deserve and am entitled to a work-life balance.
In the domestic violence “movement,” we are oftentimes told to center the needs of survivors, which is a very important point. However, in that same vein, I have seen domestic advocates work over forty hours a week, numerous weekends, and put their needs to the side — either by choice or necessity. While we must learn to center survivors’ needs, we must also learn to honor our needs as well. We deserve sustenance and rest.
Y tambien recuerdate que tu no eres la última Coca Cola en el desierto. There will be someone to pick up where you left off if you take a day off. Learn to reach out to your community when you are maxed out or getting there. There are other great people that can be there to support you. Just ask.
If you find that your job expectations are beyond your capacity, communicate that to your supervisor and document the date and time of your conversation.
2. Under the new amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), if you make under $47,500, you may qualify for overtime pay starting Dec. 1.
According to the National Council of Nonprofits, you may be eligible for overtime pay if your employer has an annual revenue of over $500,000, your state is one of the eleven states that has incorporated this into state law, or your employer engages in interstate commerce or produces goods and services for interstate commerce.
I strongly advise you to do further research and find out how the state you are living in is interpreting this change. Also, talk with your supervisor about how your nonprofit’s structure, revenue source, and your job description are impacted by this change in law.
3. Build reciprocal relationships.
We are finally coming out of the era where we were told to network, network, and network. It has been years in the making and it’s finally here! It is now the era of reciprocal relationships. With the rise of the millennial generation, it is now more important than ever to nourish relationships where there is an exchange — that exchange can include history, perspective, and strategy. As a younger person, while I may not have a plethora of knowledge of the history of a movement or organization, I can offer a younger perspective that will hopefully refresh that of my older peers.
Additionally, when it comes time to reach out to a peer or “career crush,” it is important to state clearly what information for you are hoping to acquire. Remember, your time and their time are precious.
4. Learn to ask for help and admit when you are wrong.
There are things that as younger, less experienced employees, we have to learn. It is important to be proud of our accomplishments but also to maintain humility as well. The worst mistakes that we can make are to never admit when we are wrong or seek support when we need it.
5. Learn to get back up.
We all make mistakes. It is important to learn how to get back up and learn from those mistakes. In the words of Jenni Rivera, “Si por pendeja me caigo, por chingona me levanto.”
6. Practice your elevator speech.
Whether you are searching for a new job or trying to meet the key players in your field and community — you need to be equipped with a clear, concise, and straightforward pitch of your skill-set and your job duties. Learning how to pitch my skill-set has helped me gain confidence, given me a greater perspective on what skills I have, and helped me focus on the skills I need to refine.
7. Research the non-profit’s financial status.
Many nonprofits rely on federal and state funding, and the reality is that money paid to the organization can be delayed for a number of reasons. If the non-profit you are working for doesn’t have a large financial reserve to front costs, you may have no paycheck when that reserve has been depleted. In this situation, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to research where your organization’s funding comes from before you accept a job. You can do this by looking at their annual reports — which are public records. Be on the lookout for what type of funding they receive, how diverse the funding is, and how the funding dictates the work that you are doing. A nonprofit with a diverse funding pool is a good sign.
8. Lastly, listen when your gut is reacting.
When I first heard people mention this, I had no clue what they meant. I was young, naïve, and optimistic. After a few years under my belt, I have learned to trust my instincts. Your instinct or gut reaction are cues that your psyche gives you all the time. They can surface as feelings or bodily reactions to things around you.
If something doesn’t feel quite right, then you have to explore it more and tune into what exactly doesn’t feel good. When you have determined the cause of discomfort, make a plan on how to address your needs with your supervisor and record the time and date that you expressed this. It is important to keep track of conversations that you have with supervisors as a way to remember when the issue first arose and the prevalence of the issue. Recording this information is also a safety mechanism for you. As a worker you have rights and documenting your experiences can be useful if you are considering filing an HR report or a legal claim. That beign said, I am not a legal expert on this matter, and if you find yourself in this situation, I suggest reaching out to a legal advocate for advice.
Also, your gut will also let you know when things feel good. Trust this too. If your gut is telling you that your work experience feels great, then tune into the feeling and assess what the things that are making your gut feel great. This is important to know when you are looking for a new job or hoping to get a raise. Being aware of what you enjoy can help you determine your next move or ask. When being offered a promotion or a new job, you can always negotiate and ask for things that make you feel happy as an employee. The worst thing that can happen is that the company says no and you either decide to continue with the position or not.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to holler at me on Twitter @vilmitasaurus.