Warning: this is a soapbox post.
Blue Fox recently sponsored a professional development trip for two nonprofit leaders and clients. (Find out what we all learned here.) We paid all conference fees and airfare, and clients were responsible for food and lodging. (In true nonprofit fashion, we found a reasonably priced Airbnb that would accommodate all three of us and we split the cost.)
But an exchange with one of my clients regarding travel expenses totally shocked me (and then became the inspiration for this blog).
One executive director sent me a check for her portion of the Airbnb stay – but it came from her personal checking account. I called her to say thanks, but also, you know, WTH?
She sounded sheepish as she asked, “You think the organization should pay for it?”
“Is this a professional development event we’re going to or are we taking a vacation?” I joked back.
“But this travel isn’t in our budget for the year.” (This org is well-funded and always operates under budget thanks to amazing leadership by the ED.)
“Has the board approved your attendance at the conference? Are they aware you are going?”
Another sheepish, “yes,” escaped her lips.
“Then they must understand, as seasoned business people in their own right, that you will not be paying for business expenses personally. There is no way they’d expect you to. But call your Board Chair or Treasurer if you think they’d disagree.”
“Really? So what do I do? Submit an expense report?”
“Yes, my friend. That’s exactly what you do. And your Treasurer will review and approve it. Simple as that.”
“Oh. Okay,” she said quietly. “I didn’t know I could do that.”
I shredded her personal check as soon as we hung up the phone and stared out the window for a minute. I didn’t get it. For some reason, this strong, resilient, savvy, professional woman automatically assumed that she was personally liable for her trip expenses. #nonprofitlife, AIR?
But as I talked to other nonprofit execs to find out if they had similar questions, I realized that this might be a pattern rather than an anomaly. Could there be a systemic misunderstanding held by nonprofit leadership about what is and is not “okay” when it comes to investments in individuals? How many nonprofit employees spend their own personal funds in service to their organizations – as in, spend their own money just to do their job – with no second thought?
This is not okay.
Here are some steps you can take to begin professionalizing and changing your organizational approach to investments in individuals.
The social impact space is full of passionate, tireless leaders who put mission first. But the space is also full of tired, stressed out leaders who put themselves dead last. Is that you? Do you invest in tools that will impact and develop your leadership capacity and skills? Do you give yourself permission to allocate time and budget lines for professional development? Do you set positive, healthy examples for your team when it comes to setting boundaries between work and personal life?
#nonprofitlife is hard enough. Don’t sell yourself or your team short by failing to invest resources in yourselves.
If you’re wondering how to structure things like mileage or expense reimbursement, we can help. Just get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to the Blue Fox Blog! A fairly entertaining source of info and news related to our company, nonprofits, social sector trends, and, of course, accounting. Enjoy!
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