As a fresh-faced college grad with a degree in public relations, it was all I could do to find a PT gig paying $10/hour at a homeless shelter in one of America's largest cities. Fast-forward a few months later and I found myself making slightly more as a full-time staffer, but even that was far from what would be considered a "living wage" in today's economy. I took a second job at a health club as a receptionist, a job requiring me to wear much tighter workout gear than I will ever don again, just so I could hang on to my day job working with amazing volunteers who were dedicated to helping homeless men, women and children. Eventually, something had to give. I left for the corporate world, and it wasn't until I relocated back to Ohio that I determined that the nonprofit sector was to be my permanent home.
Why does this matter? In a world where we often hear outcry over "living wages" for those working in the fast food and retail industries, we also hear outcry over nonprofit "waste" and praise for organizations with the lowest administrative costs. We can't have it both ways.
Funders reward the organizations who don't invest in their people, and the inevitable employee turnover sets funded programs back significantly while replacement staff members are expected to fly by the seat of their pants in a position that may only be funded for 12 months. Is this really the most effective way of delivering services and effecting change? Of course not! Until we start investing in our nonprofit sector employees and valuing them appropriately for the education and experience they bring to the table, we shouldn't be surprised to read articles about young professionals not being interested in taking on executive director roles as Baby Boomers retire. Not only is pay not equitable in many of our smaller nonprofit organizations, work-life balance is almost non-existent. What sane person would want a leadership role without appropriate compensation and benefits?
How do we rally around this topic? What can be learned from other professions, such as educators, who have advocated effectively for more respect as a field?