Why Do Men in the Nonprofit Sector Wear Such Bad Shoes? (humor)

Bostonian Kristin Barrali of the Nonprofit Quarterly posed this hilarious question: Why do men in the nonprofit sector wear such bad shoes? Our three favorite reader responses are below (note: this photo and the third photo are of real nonprofit men wearing their real shoes; their names and organizations are being kept anonymous for their protection).

"Men in nonprofits wear such bad shoes because we have transcended the need to be judged by our outward appearances. That's why we drive bombed-out cars, live in tiny houses, and rarely go see 'the Lion King' on Broadway when we are in New York for a nonprofit conference. Or it could be that we are willing to do a tremendous amount of work for diddly pay and our spouses don't have the time to be our fashion consultants because they are working two jobs to pay the mortgage. ...or is that just me??" -- Ken Dall (see his shoes to right), Prevention Network, Lansing, Michigan

"The wonderful, superbly talented artistic director and conductor of our nonprofit choral arts organization . . . wears clogs! The running joke is that if there is enough money in the budget at the end of the season, we will buy him a new pair of clogs! He also wears "engineer-striped" bib overalls - over his tuxedo shirt and pants - in the hour or so before a concert. This protects his clothing while he adjusts the risers, microphones, and warms up the musicians. The combination of clogs and overalls is a real hoot!" -- Diane Campbell, Boise Master Chorale

"Why do women in the nonprofit sector care about our shoes?" -- Tim Wolfred, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services

Readers: post your comments below!

Comments (17)

  • Although the article is meant to be humorous, I've heard it said that in all humor there is a nugget of truth. And, in my opinion this is the case with this article. It has been my experience working with the not-for-profit sector for the past 7 years, that many board members, management, and staff members "dress down" to the point of looking looking impoverished. It is my observation that in some situations, certain not-for-profit organizations Total Rewards systems (compensation, benefits, and intangibles) are insufficient and that the employees ARE in a relative state of poverty. However, in some cases it is my observation that the individual who is "poorly dressed" can in fact afford to dress better, but just chooses not to. These are two different situations that contribute to the symptons of "bad shoes".

    Why do "bad shoes" matter?

    First, if "bad shoes" are a symptom of the underlying siuation that we are compensating our not-for-profit management and staff below market for comparable jobs, occupations, and markets, we are going to encounter attracting, retaining, and motivating talent of the quality that is needed to accomplish our missions. This risk will continue to increase over the next 10-15 years due to the tightening of the global Human Capital market. And, there are numerous downside consequenses to this one risk that impact the short term performance and long term viability of NPO's. But I will not go into my views on Human Capital management during this discussion for sake of brevity.

    Second, if "bad shoes" are a symptom of not caring about professional appearance, then this becomes a reinforcing message that the negative stereotype and misperceptions that the not-for-profit sector is just not "real work" or a valid and respectful profession. In my paid professional work with not-for-proift organizations, I dress my best and look my best to reflect the best upon my own profession and the clients I serve. As a board member I also dress my best to reflect the best upon the NPO's that I serve in a board capacity. However, when I volunteer my time "on the line" working directly with clients, I may tend to dress down (but still clean, neat, and tidy) in order to better connect with the staff and those clients whom I serve. On specific ocassion, I will deliberately put on "tatters" if I am going "undercover" to do work in the most impoverished areas with the most downtrodden populations.

    So do "bad shoes" matter? Maybe not. Maybe they do. With this new viewpoint to consider, let each one decide for themselves. In any case, Kristin's article did give me a chuckle and made me feel warm and fuzzy.

    Aloha and Be Well!

    Alan E. Yue, PMP, CISSP, CBCP

    Aug 03, 2008
  • Well, I can only speak for the footwear choices at NPOs in my area (the beautiful Pacific NW), but we always joke that when someone comes to us from the corporate world, they "just need to get themselves a pair of Danskos" in order to fully acclimate. (For the record, I own two pair).

    Aug 04, 2008
  • Men with bad shoes? The non-profit exec I work with most often is a woman. She has bad shoes, dirty hair, and bad clothes. I think her appearance is an insult to her paid and volunteer staff.

    Why don't you write about professional appearance in the non-profit sector, for men and women. And about the psychology that leads non-profit staff to dress poorly- guilt when faced with so many disadvantaged clients, not wanting to look extravagant when salary is from donated dollars, etc. Still, poor grooming and wardrobe choices make people look defeated and incompetent, not the image a nonprofit should send.

    Frazzled and stressed to meet needs of clients and drum up the money, nonprofit execs may neglect themselves, the way parents of young children and caregivers of the elderly tend to neglect themselves. A for-profit boss might get up the nerve to tell an employee to improve personal appearance, but how can a board address the problem of a poorly groomed CEO? It is such as sensitive topic to bring up, but such a morale problem for a lot of people. It's one of those elephant in the room things.

    Is this poor personal appearance problem prevalent, as suggested by your request for bad shoe pictures, or is the exec I'm talking about unique?

     

    Aug 04, 2008
  • There can be only 2 answers to the question posed.

    Why Do Men in the Nonprofit Sector Wear Such Bad Shoes?

    1. Because they can.
    2. Because they must.

    Aug 05, 2008
  • I agree with the sentiment of one reader. Underneath that humor there is some truth in my opinion. The first thing I thought upon starting my first nonprofit job over 10 years ago was, "what's up with the shoes?"

    Now I hardly show up to work in suits and heels. And like one of the readers who commented I also own two pairs of danskos. But I think many of us can stand to step outside of the important work we are doing and take a second look at what we are wearing. A little attention to style or our appearance couldn't hurt!

    While the noble tendency of the sector is towards substance over style, appearances make an impact on how we and the work we are trying to accomplish are received by those we are trying to influence.

    kristin

    Aug 05, 2008
  • Whew, I'm glad this reference doesn't pertain to me! I've got on my favorite pair of Adidas high-tops today. And, when it comes time to be more formal, I can put on my Jerry Garcia/Nature Conservancy/Beatles tie with the best of them....along with my all-black Nike's, that just about everyone (someone? okay no one) thinks are Gucci's.:-)LT Jaeger, California

    Dec 16, 2008
  • Perhaps people are just unaware of the applicable "bad shoe" criteria. Personally I couldn't identify what's wrong with the shoes in the pictures.

    Dec 16, 2008
  • Since this is a subject near and dear to my sole, I want to assert forthrightly that (one) not all men in the nonprofit sector wear bad shoes - and (two) that the comeliness of men's shoes in the nonprofit sector is neither better or worse than that of men's shoes in the society at large. Of course, there are some nonprofits in which the Che Guevara-mystique has risen to such great heights that both men and women are encouraged to wear scuffed black army boots at all times (or at least, North Face hiking shoes). However, in other trend-setting organizations, men are bravely upholding their commitment to social justice by stepping out in stylish kicks of all colors, shapes, and heights. Viva la revolucion! : )

    Dec 17, 2008
  • What's wrong with those shoes?
    I think the best thing that happened for many non profit staffers was the company shirt with a logo on it. WOW! that saved us money for clothing and don't we all look good in denim shirts. I wonder what a pair of Born or ECCO shoes with a company logo on the side would look like. Hey, there is an idea we may have to try getting passed the board.
    Back to the shoe questions, for me it just ends up being who has time to go shopping and shoes are one of those items that it is hard to ask someone to pick up for you. Can't you just hear that conversations as you go out the door in the morning, " Hey honey, pick me up a pair of "wingtips" if you get out today!" Not very likely at my house.
    Clark Moore, Ubi Caritas Health Ministries

    Jul 16, 2009
  • I don't wear bad shoes, I wear beat up old purple birkies! Even worse? :-)

    Jul 16, 2009
  • aren't we talking a total fashion statement here? You gotta love a guy who wears sandals with socks, and whose receding hairline is balanced by a ponytail and facial hair.

    Jul 17, 2009
  • If it hasn't been said already, or even if it has, non-profit employees need to dress for success. We are businesses too! You don't help yourselves out with your big donors with your frayed collars and your scuffed shoes.
    From an anonymous board member tired of the ticklish situation of getting staff to dress appropriately

    Jul 17, 2009
  • Maybe these pictures should be submitted to "What not to Wear"...

    Jul 17, 2009
  • Hell, our MAYOR here in a large suburban city wears purple and other color clogs all the time -- it's a men's ZEN thing that women do not get.
    David Brostrom
    Wisocnsin

    Jul 26, 2009
  • Many good shoes might be professional looking but my favorite very-well-made shoes are nothing of the sort. This discussion seems to equate bad with ugly. Not so. Whether they look funky cool, professional or downright stupid, good shoes cost a lot...initially. After just the first of many resolings, they can become a great value. So maybe the solution is to help these hard-working public stewards finance the upfront cost. Don't expect anything pretty, though.

    Aug 15, 2009
  • New shoes are quite expensive these days especially good quality ones and shoes are the last thing on the mind of low income people , but what i never understood is why men's shoes and clothes are so much more expensive then womens shoes

    Sep 26, 2009
  • I agree with the sentiment of the readers. Underneath that humor there is some truth in my opinion. When i joined a non profit job i cared least about the shoes. 
    Now I hardly show up to work in suits and heels. But I think many of us can stand to step outside of the important work we are doing and take a second look at what are we wearing. A little attention to style or our appearance couldn't hurt!
    While the noble tendency of the sector is towards substance over style, appearances make an impact on how we and the work we are trying to accomplish are received by those we are trying to influence.

    May 05, 2010

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