About 17 years ago, Troy Christensen was looking for a local Gay-Straight Alliance when he realized the organization didn’t have a community for adults. A friend pointed him to the Rainbow Center in Tacoma, a nonprofit that provides education, advocacy, and a space for celebrating LGBTQ people. He immediately loved it. Christensen was initially involved as a board member, and then a volunteer, and was recently appointed the executive director, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the organization, from its mission, to strategic planning, to revenue and expenses. He’s spent his whole career working in government and for nonprofits — mission-based work he’s always been drawn to. We caught up with Christensen to learn more about himself and his work.
To Relax: At home with my husband and our two dogs
For Breakfast: Tacoma Baking Company
To Grab a Coffee: Honey at Alma Mater
For Dinner: Asado
To Be Inspired: At work
What Are You Listening To? John Coltrane, Michael Brecker, and Joni Mitchell
Who Would Play You in a Movie? The fictitious character John McClane from Die Hard
Mantra You Live By: Love is the answer.
Last Thing You Googled: Foundation for Healthy Generations
Item You Can’t Live Without: Apple Watch
Best Advice You’ve Received: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
What is one aspect of the center’s outreach work that you’re really proud of?
I am most proud of our education outreach. In 2018, we trained more than 20,000 people through in-person trainings and webinars. Through education, people can learn that we’re all just people struggling to get through life while trying to love and be loved. This kind of education leads to social change, which can impact legal, medical, and religious limitations to accessing what our straight, cis-gender counterparts already have.
It seems there’s a lot of creative problem-solving involved with nonprofit work. What’s a lesson you’ve learned from the industry that has made you a better professional?
Nonprofit status refers to a tax code, not a business strategy. Nonprofit organizations need net revenue at year’s end as much as for-profit organizations do. The only way to growth — whether that is expanding/new services/programs or just pay increases each year — is to have net revenue growth year-over-year. A lot of nonprofit organizations get into a poverty mindset that results in spending every penny on immediate mission and scraping and begging to get by. Highly successful non-profits not only have community-relevant missions, but also strategies for growth. One of my mentors was fond of saying, “No margin? No mission.”
Finally, staff shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty to work for a nonprofit. Many nonprofit missions include helping those living in poverty make ends meet. Professional staff assisting others should not also be forced to live in poverty in order to help others.
For those interested in entering the nonprofit sphere, what advice would you offer?
You will likely make less money working in a nonprofit organization, but don’t settle for less than you’re worth. One of the intangible benefits is: At the end of a bad day, you can know you still helped someone(s) and didn’t just spend your time making money for someone else. Finally, there are differences between for-profit and nonprofit work, and it is important to understand that going in.