Too Many Hats

Picture of a Mad Hatter

In this month’s grantmaking spotlight, Voqal’s director of grantmaking, Brenda Williams-Sears, celebrates the upcoming Mad Hatter Day with a thank you to nonprofit professionals and the many hats they wear.

When Lewis Carroll created the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland in the mid-1800s, mercury was used in the manufacturing of felt hats. This caused a high rate of mercury poisoning among those working in the hat industry. Mercury poisoning causes neurological damage, including slurred speech, memory loss, tremors, irritability and hallucinations, which led to the phrase mad as a hatter.

With Mad Hatter Day coming up on October 6, it seems like the perfect time to talk about the many hats that nonprofit professionals wear, especially in smaller organizations. One person may serve as the accountant, board liaison, fundraiser, communications director, human resources specialist, marketing leader, IT professional, operations manager, volunteer coordinator and strategic planning committee member.

So, allow me to recognize all the nonprofit professionals (many of whom work for Voqal grantees) who are wearing multiple hats. Thank you. I see you. I see your passion, your commitment, your sacrifices, your strength and your resilience. You probably have a board meeting, a funding event, a site visit and an audit in the next three days in addition to all of your other responsibilities.

But let me also say, wearing multiple hats is a talent not necessarily to be celebrated. When it leads to long and unhealthy hours, it can cause burnout, hopelessness and despair. Many nonprofit professionals are so committed to the cause, they think self-care is indulgent and selfish. Resist that thinking and take time to have fun, eat healthy, sleep, unplug and disengage from the work – without feeling guilty.

In addition, I am sorry that funders force nonprofit professionals to wear so many hats. We, like the hat manufacturing companies of the 1800s, are creating occupational hazards. We agonize over every penny in your budget. We rarely provide general operating support. We are reluctant to provide multiyear funding. We change our priorities annually. Now that I think about it, maybe funders are the ones who are disturbed and mad.

So once again, a big thank you to all the nonprofit professionals juggling many responsibilities, as well as the advocates in the labor movement that fight for safe working conditions. Use October 6 as an excuse to be a little silly. Make paper hats, read riddles, recite nonsensical poetry and have a tea party. May your mad hatter days be behind you.