update: I reported my boss’s boss for racism and now feel guilty

Remember the letter-writer who felt guilty about reporting their boss’s boss for racism? Here’s the update.

I’ve switched careers from nonprofit program manager to home caregiver and haven’t looked back.

The nonprofit I left is still alive and kicking. But they killed the program I used to manage, which actually made me feel less crazy about all the times I felt they wanted to get rid of the program. They couldn’t find anyone to fill my job. They ended up hiring an exemplary woman I thought would work out, but she had to leave because of the racism she encountered as a Black woman (as told to me over coffee before she quit).

They are back to their all-white staff of people who’ve been there forever plus a couple of new white people who don’t make waves. I’m sure the organization thinks this is a coincidence.

It remains to be seen how a “pass through” agency created when people didn’t know how to donate to their local charities will ever survive in an age of easy online giving and mutual aid groups. I will always remember sitting in a meeting where they were lamenting a $15,000 donation to a local food bank. Because the donor hadn’t donated THROUGH our pass through like they had in the past …. Best of luck to them!

I haven’t heard a word from my former mentor since I made the report. She did quit, but safely landed at another nonprofit leadership gig at another organization in town where she had buddies. Who knows what version of the truth she told them. The scary part is she’s in charge of a big system that impacts our local foster youth.

I want to share some details about my career switch in case it inspires similar shifts in other readers. I work with disabled elderly veterans. The impact of my work is immediate and obvious. I don’t have to go home wondering if my hard work even helped anyone. And I’m not sitting down all day at a desk, getting unhealthier and unhappier by the minute. It helps that I found a company managed by former caregivers, secured a four-day work week, and only work with one client. I got lucky with him, too. My client and his wife are delightful people and treat me like part of the family! I was a little worried about mentioning my wife (I’m a woman), but it turns out my client has a beloved gay daughter with her own wife.

The pay is only two dollars less an hour. I’ve reduced my expenses by moving to an intentional community in a beautiful rural area, so that works fine for me. I still get to use all my skills from my nonprofit job here as well, only now I get to plan events and programs just for fun (and for a discount off the rent on my cabin in the woods!). The biggest shift for me personally is going from a job that my family respected to one that they consider a fallback job.

All of this is to say that I hope your readers know how much a big career change can improve one’s quality of life! My unsolicited advice is to forget about what sounds like a good/prestigious/impressive job and go for something that you can actually get out of bed in the morning feeling happy about. Oh, and don’t be afraid to be a whistleblower when it’s called for. That organization you’re so worried about protecting and changing from the inside? Maybe it deserves to be abandoned. Maybe it deserves to circle the drain. And maybe your future self will thank you for it!

{ 70 comments… read them below }

  1. Emily*

    Thank you for the update, LW! I also love this last part, “Oh, and don’t be afraid to be a whistleblower when it’s called for. That organization you’re so worried about protecting and changing from the inside? Maybe it deserves to be abandoned. Maybe it deserves to circle the drain. And maybe your future self will thank you for it!” This is 100% true!!!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      This is a reason I’ve kept an emergency fund. It’s there for the disasters (house fire, car died) but also for moral emergencies. When I had to blow a whistle, I was able to leave that job with a financial safety net. I didn’t have to debate which was more important, a paycheck or my personal values.

      1. JenLP*

        My emergency fund is my “fuck off and leave” money plus my “be a good person” money. If there’s a friend who needs help or an organization I want to donate to, I use money from there and then replenish. But now I’m seeing that being a good person might also mean fucking off and leaving so that’s a fun twist.

        1. tsumommy*

          LOVE LOVE LOVE this type of emergency fund, great idea! Now, just need to rename a savings account as “Fuck Off and Leave/Be a Good Person $”.

  2. Love to WFH*

    Great update!

    Non-profits certainly are _not_ guaranteed to be places without bigotry. The leader of a non-profit that helps vulnerable people is currently running for office. In a candidate forum, they said one prejudiced thing after another. I just wished I’d had a bingo card to check them all off! On a positive note, maybe the board will oust them? If the board doesn’t, it’s sure to result in lower donations in future, as the community won’t trust an organization with them in charge.

    1. Willow Pillow*

      The higher chance of there being no formal HR (to at least know the rules here) makes it difficult too.

      1. CR*

        Yes that’s a huge issue. All these small orgs don’t have the budget to have proper HR, policies, training, etc. So then you’re floundering and there’s no resources to help.

    2. Bit anon for this post*

      I think we watched the same forum. How to keep this vague enough…

      Non-white female officeholder…two female challengers focused largely on the same recently polarizing topic…the one we’re talking about came up with a bizzare “ecological” suggestion referencing Oprah’s studio audience, as well as entirely cluelessly spouting the full bingo card of, “oh no way in hell is she keeping her day job” racism?

    1. OP*

      We email every so often. Thankfully she’s doing great these days and has moved on to bigger and better things (without going into too much personal detail.) The experiences in the letter were rough time for her though, of course. She taught me a lot about setting boundaries and knowing your worth even when other people don’t.

  3. Jules the 3rd*

    Hard second to all this!
    1. I have been a whistleblower twice. Once ignored (small non-profit: she ended up stealing about $10K), once listened to (handled appropriately). I blew the first whistle on my way out, and the second one… no one knows, and I am fine with that. I knew the likely outcomes and was prepared, and it was worth it both times.
    2. Yeah, I loved that small non-profit. They’re caput now, and that’s ok. The times have moved on.

  4. Lucy*

    Congratulations! I had a very, very similar experience in a charity role (I stayed approx 1 year due to the atmosphere). I’m going to share the whole story, as it was different enough to not be exactly the same thing but similar enough to be affirming that others have experienced it too. I’d also be interested to know if the vibes and machinations feel the same to others.

    It was all very touchy feely, sweet and affirming, at my area of one of my country’s largest children’s charities – aside from a few “characters” (universally middle class, white men). You couldn’t point out what felt like misogyny or racism from those “characters” because they never meant it that way, it wasn’t about them, and that was just their quirky personality. Also, each of those characters was extremely vocal about EDI and the first to point out anything that seemed bigoted in any communications or policies from other orgs or professionals we worked with (police, health, social care, etc). We’d had a few incidents with children not wanting to engage with us as we were all white and they didn’t feel they could trust us to understand them. When my manager’s manager left, a new, external one was hired, a South Asian woman with absolutely fantastic credentials. My work had had a huge focus on EDI for a long time and there was such active celebration at the fact that we’d not only been able to hire such a fantastically, out of this world qualified candidate, but also, that person had lived experience of of life as a person of colour, and would be able to identify with a subgroup of our service users that we’d struggled to successfully engage (can’t imagine why). That sounds like an odd focus, and the celebration of someone due to their race is also kind of othering, so I totally agree, if that’s what you’re thinking – but the experience of service users is also valid, and prior to that point we were nearly all white.

    Anyway, the new boss immediately raised a complaint about an email conversation she was cced in on between me and one of these “characters” – a man at her level but in charge of another team. She told me she was raising a concern about the level of misogyny in his communication, along with the undertones of racism she’d faced from him. Two months later she was gone. I later heard he’d counter-complained on the grounds that her complaint constituted bullying. I left too at that point, along with every other worker at my level in my team (six of us). It wasn’t a coordinated exit, it was just toxic there, and we all found new roles at about the same time.

    After leaving, one of the few black employees at my level on aforementioned “character”’s team left too, and at that point, she told me she’d also previously raised a complaint about the “character’s” racism, and he’d immediately filed a counter complaint, at which point she was advised by HR that said character had a “really good case about [black, female employee’s] levels of aggression” and she should probably be looking for something new for her own good, as it would be so terrible if she didn’t have something to go to…

    In any case everyone there is now white, there’s been near 100% turnover of the direct workers (lower level – middle management), while the higher ups are all now white and mostly the same white people. They’re still not managing to engage the kids I now work with, who are mostly, though not entirely, people of colour.

    So interested to find out if other charity experiences have been similar, or if anyone can relate!

    Again, LW, congratulations for getting out!

    1. Tater B.*

      I can absolutely relate!

      My new hard and fast rule is that if I am considering a job at a nonprofit and I see no diversity in their leadership team, I won’t even apply.

      Source: 20+ years of nonprofit experience

      1. Lucy*

        Yes! I might add – if there is one person of colour, go back and check their public statements(/Twitter comments if Twitter is connected to work) on major issues. Not to criticise any person of colour struggling to survive in a toxic environment like that, but it’s good to have an advance idea of how much dissent/critique is tolerated too!

    2. Heating Up Lasagne*

      Thank you for sharing. I haven’t had the same experience but I work in non-profits and am not remotely surprised at your story.

  5. Michelle Smith*

    I’m sorry your family isn’t as supportive as they should be of your career change. My grandmother passed late last year after a long battle with dementia. Because of fantastic home caregivers over her last three years of life, she was able to remain in her home with my grandfather instead of an institution and she was well cared for and not in pain. Those nurses and aides were some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. I will forever hold people who work compassionately and competently with the elderly and disabled in the absolute highest regard. Thank you for the work you’re doing for that family!!

    1. Duckworth*

      Yes, skilled carers are worth their weight in gold. I used to work with many. Also, I was significantly disabled myself for a period of time, and had to hire a home carer, and I could really only think of one person (that I knew) who had the skills. Fortunately, they were available and I was able to pay enough (I had applied for some funding) to make it worth their while. When you are ill, you are vulnerable, and unfortunately lots of well meaning folks think that “caring” involves “making small and large decisions for you”. But having someone in your home who – for example – slightly rearranges your kitchen without talking to you about it, or walks into your bedroom in the morning and opens your curtains without asking you… Those small things further reduce your autonomy when you are already dramatically deprived of autonomy, and it’s so counterproductive.

      A carer who can listen and respect your wishes is, while also having the initiative to make a call on their own when needed, is…golden.

    2. Squirrel Nutkin (the teach, not the admin)*

      I agree! My mom and dad were able to have some good last years staying in their own home as they were ill/injured because we had several WONDERFUL caregivers. I hope that when they get older, they get the same love and care that they gave to others.

      Sending a big hug and thank you today to those who work as carers and are loving and kind to the people you care for — you are truly appreciated.

  6. MigraineMonth*

    Congratulations, OP, on both doing the right thing and finding a career that was right for you.

    I quit the “dream job” that everyone wanted for a far less stressful job where I know my work matters, and it’s been wonderful. Never be ashamed of choosing the life that’s right for you!

  7. Baldrick*

    A comment about mentioning that you have a wife:
    It is always a risk to say something with any individual, because humans have such ranges of opinions, but I want to say that the military I work with has been told that everyone is welcome and as a group they accept that. There are still problems with sexism and racism and ableism, for example someone was anonymously throwing out some materials about some updates to LGBTQ+ support, but this stopped when the senior commander sent out an email explaining that the materials would continue to be replaced and this person was only wasting taxpayer money. I know that person’s opinions about the trans community hasn’t really changed, but if they are ordered to support trans coworkers and behave appropriately because they know that saying anything anti-trans will get them in trouble then that’s better than many workplaces who ignore the problem. I know that militaries are far from perfect, and need to continue improving, but behavior and culture studies show that national militaries are a reflection of the society from which they come and I really appreciate that I work with good people who are actively working to make things better.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for sharing that about the military, it’s good to hear how much things have changed since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I didn’t come out until I was 21. I grew up when coming out in high school was social suicide, “gay” was used to mean “stupid” or “bad,” and using the f slur was just staring to be considered an issue. I am just a nervous person about coming out to heterosexual people sometimes, even though let’s be real, people can “tell” from how I look.
      It had nothing to do with his veteran status, just him living in a Trump-voting area. But I had no reason to worry and so that was a good learning moment for me.
      My clients wife and family were actually more unfazed and relaxed about it (my ideal reaction) vs my urban nonprofit co workers who started assuming I was caught up on Rupauls drag race and asking me my pronouns with a rather intense look on their faces.

  8. nopetopus*

    “That organization you’re so worried about protecting and changing from the inside? Maybe it deserves to be abandoned. Maybe it deserves to circle the drain. And maybe your future self will thank you for it!”

    I needed to hear this today. I’ve been trying to manage up and give feedback and all it’s gotten me is a target on my back. Time to move on…

  9. Observer*

    LW, I’m so glad you’re in a job / career that you are enjoying, in a mutually respectful relationship with the people you work with! Also, that Rachel is doing well!

    But the rest? Oh dear! I’m afraid that you are right that perhaps this organization deserves to fail. Because of their racism, for one thing. But also for being oblivious in every other way. If I understand you correctly, they are essentially a “matchmaker” between potential donors and organizations that need donations. What are they bringing to the table that could help anyone? Do they even have a clue who their target demographic is and what they want?

    Obviously, it would be better if your former org did the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. But absent that, they should do the right thing because at this point it’s the only thing that will give them a chance at long term survival. It’s not for nothing that diversity in leadership tends to correlate with higher levels of success for businesses. But that’s no longer your problem. And I’m glad for your for that.

    1. Janethesame*

      What I gleaned was this org was something like United WAY, making it easy for donors to write one check and someone else decides who is worthy of how much.

  10. CR*

    After about 7 years of working for various horribly toxic non-profits, I finally got out of the sector and I’ve never been happier. I kept thinking the problem was me, but it wasn’t. They can be absolutely terrible places to work.

    1. Exploring*

      I wonder all the time, these days, about getting out of non-profits, but it’s all I’ve ever known and I just don’t know enough about other workplace cultures. Are you able to share how you have found switching to another sector, in terms of unspoken norms (eg. values; EDI; attire; work-life balance)?

      1. CR*

        I was the exact same way – it was all I had known, all my professional experience was in non-profits. The biggest thing to get used to for me was that private sector corporations actually have money, lol. There are fun perks like catered lunches, events, parties, and free snacks and drinks but also important things like bonuses and really good benefits. Like, I was used to working in crappy offices on computers that were falling apart and pinching every penny. Don’t need to worry about that anymore. It probably really varies by company, but mine has excellent work-life balance, no one is expected to work outside of office hours or on vacation. There is a big focus on EDI as well.

        1. Exploring*

          Lol, totally get that about them actually having money! Thanks for talking about your experience. I have a fear that other sectors will be less sophisticated when it comes to values, wellbeing, EDI… because my industry is quite sophisticated about those issues.
          Eg, a few years ago, I flirted with switching to a tech / software discipline, but was really put off by how tech seemed behind my industry with respect to those things. (So I didn’t switch to tech.) Good to hear that other sectors can be intelligent about wellbeing and diversity.

    2. Squirrel Nutkin (the teach, not the admin)*

      Yeah, a friend of mine had an awful time working for a non-profit whose mission she loved, but whose director was just terrible. Totally toxic place.

  11. Velomont*

    Great update, particularly as I myself am a veteran (64 yrs old and, very fortunately, not disabled in any way). However, can someone explain to me:

    “pass-through”; and
    “intentional community”?

    1. Lisa B*

      I’m not 100% sure on the “intentional community,” but think of a pass-through agency as something like United Way. You COULD donate directly to a food back, a homeless shelter, or a local school district. But if you donate to the United Way, your money gets “passed through” them to another organization where it is actually used.

    2. Thistle Pie*

      Pass-throughs are generally non-profits that collect and disperse money – think of a foundation. The foundation may focus on veteran’s services, but they don’t actually provide services, they just collect money and then write grants to agencies who actually do the work.

      Intentional communities are kind of a toned-down modern day commune. Generally the “intentional” part is that you’re living in an area that you specifically chose based on the values you all have, rather than in a neighborhood with whoever happened to be there. Usually there are shared spaces, events, potlucks, etc. They can be permanent (like co-housing where you need to purchase a condo or house) or they can be transitional like living at a monastary or ashram for example. I used to live at one where I lived in a tent on a campus that hosted workshops, and I worked in the dining hall. For me that was something I did during summers in college.

    3. Victoria*

      Intentional community is a type of housing where some aspect of the living is communal: perhaps it’s a group of people who live in the various apartments in a brownstone and share the labor of building maintenance; roommates in a house where they are intentional about sharing the space as a community rather than just as individuals who split the rent; or a plot of land where everyone has their own house but the community cooks meals in a central kitchen once a week and makes collective decisions about managing the property.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I have also heard this sort of set-up referred to as “cohousing,” for anyone who is familiar with the term cohousing but not familiar with intentional community.

        1. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

          I would say that co-housing is a specific subset of intentional community living, with the latter being inclusive of other types, like housing co-ops, multiple families buying one house together, 60s style communes, my friend’s rural yurt community, and all of Victoria’s examples. Co-housing, at least as originally defined in Denmark and as it’s applied in BC, is a specific model of home ownership where owners have both private and share space and amenities, and comes with certain communal responsibilities and participation requirements.

          1. Crooked Bird*

            Thank you, this is a good explanation. Co-housing sounds likely to be the version OP chose, unless she just didn’t want to include extra personal details about that part, because that’s the version in which reducing costs could be said to be a central goal. (Along with living more closely with your neighbors, being a bit more of a village, etc.) Many other versions are based on specific shared values of some kind. I used to live in an intentional community that was religious and had a focus on simple living and caring for the environment, for example.

            1. OP*

              The one I chose is an all-women community founded by lesbians in the 1970s, with a feminist and spiritual focus. We had our own offshoot of the back to the land movement in the 1970s called the women’s land movement and many of the communities are still thriving although some are struggling or closed down.

              I was a regular visitor and volunteer for about five years before taking the plunge to move here. (What I’m saying is definitely take your time with choosing and do your research.)

              It’s one of the most beautiful parcels of land I’ve ever been to. I couldn’t afford it in a million years if I was trying to buy or rent in a traditional way.

              Living in a village is life-changing and a bit closer to how we humans are meant to be, I think.

              Oh and the rent is only $500 for a cute little cabin close to a main building with amenities. $250 for me since I work on their admin and programming.

              I recommend Communities magazine for a great look at the different experiences and issues in cohousing and intentional communities.

              And the Foundation for Intentional Communities (FIC). They have a great website and YouTube channel with information about different lifestyles and options, plus virtual tours.

              1. Crooked Bird*

                Oh wow! That’s such a fascinating community & history! Thank you for sharing.

                Village life is definitely life-changing and more natural for humans, I agree. It has its challenges too, because the closeness brings a need for a level of agreement (and therefore a potential for conflict) in areas of life that modern people are used to being totally independent in. I’ve seen these issues navigated both successfully and unsuccessfully! The longevity of the community you’re in speaks to successes in that regard for sure.

                Best wishes for you to enjoy your new life to the fullest! My husband has done caregiving too, and probably will again, and I’m fully with you: it’s deeply important work, and fulfilling if you can ignore the prestige-focused voices.

        2. Velomont*

          Thanks everyone for that. I sort of thought that that’s what a pass-through is, but wasn’t sure. And the intentional housing sounds like what I would call a co-op development.

  12. DJ Abbott*

    Seconding the career change comment. I went from an analyst track where I was bored and isolated to a front desk position where I get to interact and help people. No job is perfect, but enjoying my work helps so much with day-to-day imperfections. I feel so much better now.

  13. H.C.*

    Hear hear for the LW that’s a net positive for her (tho I’m still side-eyeing her ExJob org & Tammy).

    And I agree that prestigious-sounding jobs are largely overrated and really mean to boost the ego of the one proclaiming it; in fact, the word itself reminds me of a passage from one of my fave Dear Sugar columns.

    “You might, for example, be interested to know that the word prestigious is derived from the Latin praestigiae, which means conjuror’s tricks. Isn’t that interesting? This word that we use to mean honorable and esteemed has its beginnings in a word that has everything to do with illusion and deception and trickery.”

  14. Abe Froman*

    I have been in bad non-profits, I have been in okay non-profits. I am currently in a pretty darn good one, though not without its challenges. Its also the first place I’ve worked that is led by a CEO, a board chair, and a senior leadership team that is the same ethnic identity as the community we serve, all with a staff that is almost 90% non-white. The level of authenticity and freedom to actually be yourself here is not something I have ever experienced before.

  15. Julia K.*

    “My unsolicited advice is to forget about what sounds like a good/prestigious/impressive job and go for something that you can actually get out of bed in the morning feeling happy about.”

    Yes yes yes! This is a good update in a lot of ways, but that part made me especially happy because it’s so underrepresented.

    I’ve been a stay-at-home mother and homemaker for six years now, and I have more kids coming, so it’s going to last a while longer.

    It’s been my absolute favorite job out of a wide variety of fields. It gets me out of bed in the morning feeling happy.

    There’s no prestige, including from my own formerly stay-at-home mother, but IDGAF. This is my life, and I’m doing what I find most meaningful.

    If and when I go back to the paid workforce eventually, I’m sure that having read AAM in the meantime will help me sync up with workplace norms.

  16. Kindred Spirit*

    Great update, and congratulations, OP, on finding a rewarding career. I left a fairly secure but high-pressure corporate job to become a freelancer many years ago.

    I remember getting headaches and an upset stomach around midday on Sundays because, even though it was the weekend, I was the Monday morning dread was looming like a dark cloud. I’m sure I’d be in a better financial position if I had continued with W-2 employment when you consider matching contributions to a 401K/IRA, corporate healthcare coverage, and more. But I traded that life in for much more control over my day-to-day and feeling good about what I do.

  17. Lily*

    “forget about what sounds like a good/prestigious/impressive job and go for something that you can actually get out of bed in the morning feeling happy about.”

    “That organization you’re so worried about protecting and changing from the inside? Maybe it deserves to be abandoned. Maybe it deserves to circle the drain. And maybe your future self will thank you for it!”

    I really needed to hear both of these messages today.

  18. saskia*

    “I’ve reduced my expenses by moving to an intentional community in a beautiful rural area, so that works fine for me. I still get to use all my skills from my nonprofit job here as well, only now I get to plan events and programs just for fun (and for a discount off the rent on my cabin in the woods!)”

    How wonderful! You rock, OP :)

  19. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Good news for the OP personally, but frustrating that her old nonprofit is continuing in its racist way. Really good news would be that it had gone broke and that all the racist managers had become unemployable pariahs.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’m so sick of white fragility, just more racists who lash out angrily when called on their racism

      1. Boof*

        I loved into the spiderverse for a lot of reasons, but they manage to address a lot of complex issues in a really straightforward and humerous way; one line when they’re going to find the “lead scientist” one of the characters is picturing a generic man in a white coat, and the other points to the hippy-ish woman as the lead scientist (because they’d run into her before) and the one who was picturing a man just throws off something like “ok! So I reexamine my biases, get the lead scientist…” Like, it doesn’t HAVE to be some huge moral referendum if it’s a smallish thing (I realize systematically objecting to people’s qualifications on the basis of their race is NOT a small thing, but let’s say it’s the first comment of the sort – something that can be fixed pretty quickly if someone just says “oh, wow, let me think about that” and backs off – AND THEN STOPS DOING IT) – just think about it, consider apologizing (especially if there is likely some basis), and then do better!

  20. Petty_Boop*

    As the wife of a disabled veteran who worries about “what happens when I can’t…” you give me hope. Bless you for what you do, and I’m so happy to read this update! I had tears in my eyes by the end of it.

  21. Beatrice Belladonna Eastwood*

    My terminally-ill, disabled veteran dad passed away earlier this week. He had some in-home care while he was living at home. When I tell you I am so incredibly grateful for people like you in your new career, I hope you will believe me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making such a difference in your client’s life.

  22. Nicosloanica*

    Sadly this sounds so familiar OP. I have generally worked for a lot of all-white nonprofits that could be doing more for the communities they claim to serve. All of them would *claim* they care about diversity and that want to be more diverse, but they’re not actually interested in doing anything about it – the status quo suits them just fine.

  23. Em*

    “My unsolicited advice is to forget about what sounds like a good/prestigious/impressive job and go for something that you can actually get out of bed in the morning feeling happy about.”

    very well said. I will be mulling this over!

  24. tsumommy*

    I have chills reading your update! A job that matters, with amazing clients, and a new home in an intentional community…you are an inspiration for making changes in one’s life for the better <3.

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