Cultivate Paranoia Or A Constructive Environment?

Over the years I have written about studies which have found that the younger generation starting careers in non-profit organizations weren’t content to put in long hours and pay their dues. There is a desire for work-life balance and ability to advance in the organization relatively quickly.  The general caution to non-profits has been that if workers don’t feel that their labor is allowing them to make a difference, they may look elsewhere.

Yesterday, Non-Profit Quarterly suggested there might be another facet to the way that idealism manifests –leaking/whistleblowing.  The evidence of this trend is mostly anecdotal, but it bears considering (if only because you shouldn’t be doing anything shady in the first place).

Harris writes that workers and potential workers are increasingly clear that they must “be their own brand.” So, if the ethical choices of an institution do not align with that of a millennial who is confident about his or her own brand, including their moral reasoning, and if the social stakes are high enough, the millennial may go with his or her own commitments even if that institution is the federal government.

While there have been a number of instances of notable mismanagement, malfeasance, and outright fraud in the non-profit sector, there are plenty of less serious issues employees might bring to light.

Certainly, employees need to exercise good judgment and maturity so as not to mischaracterize the difficult work that non-profits do as illegal exploitation. However, there is a thin line between asking people to work hard for low pay and asking people to work hard and pressuring them not to claim overtime or comp time.

While the NPQ article suggests an increased threat of whistleblowing will keep employers honest, it might be more productive to view changing expectations as an impetus to effect change toward a more constructive work environment rather suspiciously eyeing new worker for signs of betrayal.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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