Run as Fast as You Can from the Nonprofit Martyrs

But I work at a nonprofit!

I love working for nonprofit clients. It’s a life and career choice I do not regret, ever.

But that doesn’t mean I want to work with all nonprofits.

I avoid certain types of organizations based on my moral and political values.

I also avoid nonprofits staffed by martyrs.

Luckily most nonprofit staff are not martyrs, just hard-working, deeply passionate people. But we do run into them regularly.

The martyrs are pretty easy to spot, because they get very indignant with you when you ask them to pay for anything. Ironically, they are also the people most likely to complain about your FREE content too! They don’t think they should have to pay, because they work for nonprofits, AND they also tend to think that they deserve the most comprehensive information and services available, because they work for nonprofits. 

I totally get it when people feel like they need to ask for a discount or special terms or a full scholarship. It’s the reaction that I get when I tell them “No, because our prices and terms are already built for nonprofits,” that tells me all I need to know.

If they say, “OK, just had to ask,” and move on with the purchase or contract, or ask me when we might be running a sale for all nonprofits, that’s fine with me. I get it.

If they politely say they just can’t afford it, I totally get that too. We usually direct them to as many of our free resources as we can.

It’s when they continue to push, and try to make me feel bad or guilty, that I suspect I’m talking to a martyr. If they get the least bit bitchy with me or Kristina (who handles most of our customer service questions), that’s a sure sign.

At that point, I suggest that we are probably not the best service provider for them. Their next move is often to ask me for recommendations for where to go next. Since I don’t want to push a martyr on to someone else, I usually suggest they Google it.

In a few select cases, I’ve secretly unsubscribed them from all of our stuff, because I really had no interest in hearing from them again.

Many people make huge personal sacrifices to start and work for nonprofits. I appreciate their commitment and dedication. They deserve our thanks and admiration. They do not, however, deserve free labor and expertise from every consultant they run into.

If nonprofit staff try to make you feel bad about charging them, because they are such good people themselves, and you, well, you are just  trying to make money off of them (shame! shame!), I urge you to ditch the conversation as fast as you can.

How do you handle conversations with nonprofit martyrs? Please share in the comments.

P.S. We’ll talk about handling difficult client situations and pricing your services during the Get Nonprofit Clients Coaching Program that starts October 5. Early bird rates end September 18.



  • abernardin

    Ha! I’ve encountered plenty of martyrs in my day, and I think your advice is spot on. Some of them have their hearts in the right place, but they rarely change their tune – they’ll continue to expect to get more than they’re paying for, and will end up dissatisfied with you as a vendor, which can have a cascade effect on future potential clients.