Interesting piece on Alternet about the leadership-crisis-or-is-it facing grassroots nonprofits as their Baby-Boom leaders retire. While the article contains some thoughtful counter-arguments–especially the wry notion that talk of crisis merely reflects Boomers’ anxiety about our replaceability–it still seems to accept the basic falsehood with which Boards have fought staff pay raises for years: that the choice is between depriving clients so staff members can drive Mercedes and compensating workers so badly that people with law degrees qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
This is, of course, nonsense. First, there’s a huge middle ground between offering $40,000 a year for professional staff and offering $350,000 per year. Second, the money doesn’t come out of client pockets except in the most attenuated sense–to suggest that it does is yet another example of "let’s you and him fight." The money, if it comes, will come out of Board pockets. No wonder Boards are so sure that paying it will destroy the nonprofit sector, and their corner of it in particular.
If in fact this generation is unwilling to accept $40,000 a year specifically because of the burden of student loans, let’s offer its members enough to pay those loans and still live above the poverty line. The Nonprofiteer is math-challenged, so she doesn’t know how to do
this; but it must be possible, with all the computing power floating
around the U.S., to figure out the bare-necessity salary for, say, the
average M.S.W. in Houston, so that Houston agencies employing M.S.W.s
could pay them what it takes to repay the alma mater while still making the rent
and clothing the children.
Of course, it would be simpler just to identify the market rate for M.S.W.s in Houston–what they’re paid by for-profit hospitals or school systems. This, however, would require all those social entrepreneurs and Board members who advocate operating nonprofits like businesses to realize that businesses have to respond to the market in hiring employees as well in serving customers or pricing their product.
But if all else fails–if the nonprofit labor market is (gasp!) imperfect and continues to pay scarce employees as if there were a glut of them–then don’t be surprised if organizers from the SEIU or the Teamsters show up in charity offices, talking union.
N.B. that the ostensible "crisis" in nonprofit labor coincides with increased opportunities for women to secure paid employment, and with anti-discrimination statutes making women’s employment as lucrative as that of men. (Okay, okay–in theory.) Sure, nonprofits have traditionally survived on the unwaged and underpaid labor of women, but you’ll excuse the Nonprofiteer if she doesn’t regard those as the good old days.
In other words: if we believe in the law of supply and demand, there’s no such thing as a labor shortage; there’s only a shortage of labor at current prices. And if we don’t–well, curious how faith in capitalist theory falters when it’s time to pay people what’s necessary to attract and keep them.
*Charles de Gaulle