“The graveyards are full of indispensable men”*

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


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9 Responses to ““The graveyards are full of indispensable men”*”

  1. Paul Oostenbrug Says:

    As you probably know there are a number of salary research sites. One by Monster.com shows up at the top of the list. Here is another that quotes salary levels for various types of social workers in 60657, for example:

    Salary.com Individual Salary Wizard, http://swz.salary.com/salarywizard.

    Results produced when I entered “social worker” and ZIP Code 60657.

    Social Worker (BSW)

    Interviews, coordinates, and plans programs and activities to meet the social and emotional needs of their clients and… More

    For You:
    Base Salary Range (Free)
    Personal Salary Report ($)

    For Employers:
    Base Salary Range (Free)
    Scoped Salary Data ($)

    Social Worker (MSW)
    Interviews, coordinates, and plans programs and activities to meet the social and emotional needs of their clients and… More
    For You:
    Base Salary Range (Free)
    Personal Salary Report ($)

    For Employers:
    Base Salary Range (Free)
    Scoped Salary Data ($)

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I knew somebody had to be doing this! Thanks for pointing us–employees and employers alike–in the right direction.

  3. MarilynJean Says:

    I’ve often wondered why nonprofit employees weren’t unionized. Your comments are so right on.

  4. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I suspect nonprofit employees aren’t unionized for the same reason a majority of the workforce is now nonunion: lack of organizing efforts by the major unions coupled with a concerted campaign by the [well-organized!) Right to alter public discourse so unions are perceived as a “special interest group.” But labor’s day will come again, and nonprofits will be at the top of the organizers’ list, because for the most part their work can’t be outsourced to Pakistan in response to unionization.

  5. janinsanfran Says:

    Another reason why nonprofit employees are not unionized: nonprofit managers fight unionization tooth and nail, just like other employers. One of their most effective weapons is convincing employees that they should be happy with substandard wages and benefits because their work is so “meaningful.”

    Trouble is, in our rat race of an economy, nonprofit management has something of a point: working for a nonprofit for low wages but doing something moderately socially useful CAN feel like a privilege.

  6. Nonprofiteer Says:

    True: now the trick is to make nonprofit management understand that having us on staff is THEIR privilege and not just ours!

  7. Chiropractor Myrtle Beach Says:

    I have visited a few other forums related to this subject in the past couple of days in doing a research report for my project. I have to say that what you’re saying here makes perfect sense and is helping me to get my head around this subject. Do you have any other forums you could recommend to help my research?



    Chiropractor Myrtle Beach

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      If you’ll check the first comment on this topic, you’ll find a list of sites addressing the question of nonprofit salary. If you’re looking for something specific, please let me know and I’ll try to point you in the right direction. Thanks for asking.

  8. click here Says:

    A insightful blog post right there mate . Thanks for the post !

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