Take This Salary and Shove It

The more we turn away the most talented, dedicated and qualified people from careers in the nonprofit world by demonizing their very natural desire for fair compensation, the more we will lag behind the business and government sectors, the less efficient we will be, and the less change we will make for those who count on us.

by Shoshanna Jaskoll

There are two appalling, yet not shocking, revelations in the Forward‘s “Salary Survey of 2013“.

First things first: this is not a ‘salary survey’. There are no doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, pilots, bankers, teachers, federal workers, mafia lords, drug dealers, mail carriers, loggers, waitresses, cab drivers or artists listed here. This is only a salary survey of Jewish not-for-profit heads in the US. So first, lets call it what it is, “Witch Hunt to Vilify the People Running the Organizations You Expect to Make the World You Live in a Better Place.”

Also, were this a real ‘salary survey’, salaries of all sectors at all levels would be evaluated side by side. Were this to be done, it is fairly certain that those currently scoffing at nonprofit salaries would be mortified to know what the average nonprofit professional is paid. When only the ‘top CEOs’ are evaluated, the image of the entire sector is skewed. Who are we helping here?

The Forward is not the only place where lists such as these are published. Here, in Israel, the salaries of Israeli nonprofit heads are published periodically and the moral outrage goes round and round the internet.

Reading the survey, we learn something awful but unsurprising; women are paid less than men for the same work.

Still. In 2013. The world still believes that women deserve less than men.

And the theme of undervaluing people continues, because we read how those who run these organizations are … wait for it… overpaid.

And I’d like to understand who gets to say that.

A nonprofit head of even a medium sized organization must be a: manager, budget balancer, fundraiser, marketer, forward thinker, financial planner, crisis manager, leader, inspirer, decision maker, team player, strategic thinker, community organizer, program evaluator, HR director – and more! Often they do not have the proper staff to support them and so wear many, many hats at once.

And yet, I have so often heard, “They should work for the good of the cause.” And I cannot take these people seriously, because really, who works for free? And is that what you want? Do you, the donor, want the dollars that you invest in social change to go to an organization that doesn’t value their staff or care enough for their cause to invest in it seriously?

Do you want the the shekels that you earn to go to a place that is run by someone who is always looking at the exit door because he or she must make enough to support his/her own family?

I cannot, for the life of me, understand this short term thinking. A proper leader must get proper compensation so that all of their energy can go into the job.

Yes, nonprofits should be held accountable for how they spend their money – but dollars aren’t the bottom line! You must look at output, at effect, at quantifiable results and change that the organization is making. They cannot and must not be measured only according to the salary of their highest paid employee who may in fact be doing the job of three people.

Nonprofits are expected to change the world, court donor dollars in the sexiest, funniest, wisest way without being annoying, have fabulous websites, enthralling marketing materials, engaging social media, to be efficient, smart and modern, and to do so while giving 100% of the raised funds directly to the aid recipient.

I ask you to think about this. The above model is just not sustainable. No business, institution, or organization can function without qualified, dedicated people running it. Yet, no one capable of properly managing a successful nonprofit is going to work where they are not valued and where they are in fact scorned for the audacity of expecting to be compensated for their work.

Anyone who knows how to bring in dollars would see the above model and immediately figure that he or she could make a bigger social impact by working in the business world, making five times what they would make as a nonprofit CEO and giving two fifths of their salary away to charity.

And we haven’t even started on the salaries given to lower rung workers in nonprofits! Those in the field; social workers, program directors, coordinators – those whose hands create the magic that is saving someone’s life or home or future are paid shamefully little.

Fundraisers! Fundraisers are expected to bring in millions while earning pennies. They have one of the hardest jobs on Earth and are expected to produce hand over fist, immediately. They deal with rejection after rejection, need to find the wittiest ‘ask’, stay motivated, and deal with a CEO so pressured for funds that long term investment ideas are shot down before the plan is even presented.

People:

These organizations are doing the work you want to see in the world. Those sick kids? They help them! Those poor families with no food or heat? They care for them! Those disabled who need to be heard? They are their voice!

Stop hindering the very people you expect the best from.

The more we turn away the most talented, dedicated and qualified people from careers in the nonprofit world by demonizing their very natural desire for fair compensation, the more we will lag behind the business and government sectors, the less efficient we will be, and the less change we will make for those who count on us.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll is cofounder of REACH3K, a boutique nonprofit branding, grant writing and communications consulting firm with clients in Israel and abroad.