Dear Nonprofiteer, Why do nonprofits ask for the moon?

Dear Nonprofiteer,

I am a nonprofit professional “in transition” otherwise known as job hunting.  In the course of my job search I have come across two  job postings that have left me incredulous and I was curious as to your opinion.
  1. An executive director position listed for $32K/year. Granted this was described as a half time gig but is there any such thing as a half time ED? Maybe it means you can take weekends off. The job description/requirements were just as detailed as any full time description.
  2. A director of development position for $20-25K.   Again this is listed as 3/4 time. It comes with a very detailed laundry list of expectations but again is this really a job that can be done well with less than full attention?

Something seems really off here. My gut (and review of their 990’s) tells me that these are marginal organizations to be avoided.  Do I seem unrealistically fussy in today’s job market?

Signed, Born At Night But Not Last Night

Dear Born:

You are not unrealistically fussy, especially when “today’s job market” in the nonprofit sector seems to include a number of jobs that are going begging for want of the right candidate.  And you’ve put your finger on why that should be the case: because the job descriptions (and presumably the jobs that accompany them) are a pile of unrealistic expectations held together with the glue of employer entitlement.  This glue is particularly thick in the nonprofit sector, where hiring managers presume that their poverty entitles them to your services for less than they’re worth.  But, as the workplace sign has it, Bad planning on your part doesn’t necessarily constitute an emergency on my part.

And you’ve identified a favorite gambit of those self-entitled managers/agencies: pretending that a full-time job can be done part-time because they know the proposed salary is an insult.  (For what it’s worth, the Nonprofiteer was paid $25K as an Executive Director of a small organization in 1987; if salaries haven’t increased 20% in the past 25 years, they should have!)  As you say, it is virtually impossible for anyone to be a part-time Executive Director, and the length of the list of responsibilities demonstrates that the agency knows this as well as you do.  You could do it simply by specifying the number of hours you’re prepared to work (e.g., 30), but sure as death and taxes would come a grant application deadline which must be met, and your self-imposed part-time-ness (part-time-itude?) would go out the window.

The Nonprofiteer just had occasion to help a client work on a job description for a part-time professional position. The original description had two problems.  First, it specified more than 40 hours’ worth of work for a 20-hour position.  Second, its qualifications included both items that couldn’t be expected from someone willing to work part-time for $20 an hour (such as a roster of contacts in high-profile media) and items that shouldn’t be expected from a professional (such as facility with word processing programs).  If you’re hiring a professional, don’t ask for secretarial skills.  And if you’re hiring a professional, be reasonable about how much professional service you can get for $20 an hour and/or 20 hours per week.

By contrast, another client has recently shifted its budgeting from “How much can we spend based on how much we raised last year?” to “How much do we need to raise to support what we need to do?”  Moreover, one of the things the agency realized it needed to do was steadily increase the salary of the Executive Director so that when the current martyr departs, the group will be in a position to offer a living wage to the next group of candidates.

(Consider, by the way, that the people offering such meager salaries are Board members who probably chafe at being asked to give $1000 a year.  They don’t hesitate, though, to ask you to forego $25,000 or so of income.  This is why the Nonprofiteer doesn’t advocate asking staff members to donate to their agencies: they’re already doing so at a level no other donor is likely to match.)

(Consider also that the sums offered make clear that the agencies are expecting women, and only women, to apply for these jobs.  No one would dare offer such a pittance to a man.  The nonprofit sector operated for years on the unwaged labor of women, but there’s no reason we have to continue to provide this subsidy.)

Thus, your incredulity at the nerve of some agencies is perfectly well-founded.  That won’t help you get a job with them: but hey, why would you want to?  You’re a star, and you’ll find a place that won’t also ask for the moon.*

————–

“Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”–Bette Davis to Paul Henreid, Now Voyager

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3 Responses to “Dear Nonprofiteer, Why do nonprofits ask for the moon?”

  1. Anita Bernstein Says:

    Maybe a few white-collar employers out there use the part-time job classification in good faith, but not many. It’s good old “Help Wanted — Women” relabeled for the equal pay era, and damn skippy these employers expect a full complement of work every week. I think it’s fair for a candidate to ask what exactly is part-time about the job.

    Anecdote more or less on point: I just checked out of a hotel. Business trip. An item I’d left in the room yesterday morning wasn’t there when I returned late in the afternoon. In response to my complaint, the manager called the chambermaid on her cell phone, twice, asking her to him call back. Although I believe this person carelessly threw out my possession–or else carried it away on purpose, which is unlikely; it has little cash value–I felt crummy. Imagine toiling as a hotel maid at near minimum wage and having to take calls from the boss when your shift finally ends.

    So yeah, the tradeoff of a low-wage job should be that you get to forget about it when you’re not on the clock.

  2. K. Sujata Says:

    Love this!
    A good reminder for me and also brings to mind what a board member at Apna Ghar told me – “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”.

  3. AJ Says:

    Great post! Everyone who works for or with non-profits knows that money can be very tight, but it makes me sad that I’ve seen so many job descriptions like the one described in this post and that I personally know so many ED’s who are ‘part time’ and paid accordingly. It’s simply not reasonable or fair to post a job description calling for an experienced professional and expect them to be paid like an intern. Thanks for shedding some light on the ridiculousness of this phenomenon and reassuring Born At Night But Not Last Night that their outrage and frustration is well founded.

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