Career Tip: Paying Your Dues — Is it a Necessity?

From shawncampbell via Flickr's Creative Commons

Originally posted on the homepage blog by resident career transitions expert Meg Busse. Meg recently recorded a podcast answering common questions about nonprofit careers. To listen, click here.

I was on a panel a few weeks ago at a retreat for Executive Directors (EDs). The panel was focused on supporting emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector and featured four people to speak to our experiences as 30(ish)-year-olds in leadership roles. The other panelists were fantastic: Matthew Bennett and Michelle Cote of the Purpose Project and Fahd Vahidy, Executive Director of Public Allies Connecticut.

One of the most interesting moments of the session came at the very end when one Executive Director commented that young hires don’t want to pay their dues. This created a bit of a hubbub in the room – the audience seemed split as to whether they strongly agreed or disagreed.

I’ve been thinking about that idea since then. I’ve heard that that sentiment is out there, but had never run into it. I’ve been lucky to have jobs where ‘paying my dues’ was never part of the job description, either because of organization philosophy or the fact that there was just too much to do to waste time on a dues-for-dues’-sake routine.

My current job is a perfect example. Russ is the Associate Director of Idealist and is my direct manager. From the beginning of my work at Idealist, Russ has gone out of his way to put me in situations where I can learn. I’ve sat in on interviews with big newspapers, participated in committee meetings so I could get to know the players, and traveled to conferences that would provide professional development, networking, and even practice in talking about Idealist and my work. Sure I do stuff that could be counted as paying my dues that I don’t love, but that’s just a fraction of my job. Those mundane tasks are balanced out by a host of incredible opportunities that Russ is constantly throwing my way. These opportunities are great for me and great for Idealist – a win-win situation.

There are lots of thoughts out there on why to pay dues, why millennials won’t pay dues, and who thinks dues paying is still important (hint: generally people already in leadership positions). These perspectives are not sector-specific, but seem to apply to nonprofit organizations.

My two cents?

  • The average time a younger employee spends in a job is down to around sixteen months these days. Why spend valuable time paying dues instead of doing real work?
  • Competition for talent within the nonprofit sector as well as between the sectors is fierce; great candidates aren’t wooed by dues-paying job descriptions
  • Most importantly though, the issues that we’re all working on are too pressing and too huge to not throw everything we have at them.

…Basically, I’m for fewer dues and more interesting to-dos.

What do you think? What has your experience been?

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