Have a Decent Heart or Earn a Decent Living?

I’ve been debating on whether or not to discuss this, out of fear that my perspective would be misunderstood, but I just had to talk about it. I am compelled to re-visit a topic my colleagues and I have discussed on copious occasions. As a nonprofit professional, is it more important to have a decent heart or earn a decent living?  Since the sector has become professionalized, nonprofits have and continue to strive to attract and retain more educated and diverse talent, yet recent statistics do not reflect an influx in wages to substantiate the acquisition (let alone retention) of such talent.

Here’s my story.

I remember it like it was yesterday. Still, to this day, one of the greatest feelings I’ve experienced. It was in January 2013 that I began my career as a professional fundraiser. I was even more thrilled that I was with a large, multi-million dollar budget organization whose mission was to serve thousands of people by: rescuing impoverished people from poverty, educating the illiterate, preventing teenage pregnancy, and providing shelter for chronically poor, homeless families who suffered from substance abuse. (Believe it or not, that just lists a few of the total 12 program offerings of the organization). Pretty big deal right?

I was recruited by the organization to serve as Grants Coordinator while in my second year in the Master of Public Administration (PAD) program at Clark Atlanta University, where I was responsible for assisting with and drafting five and six figure grants. After six months in this role, I was promoted to my official new role of Development Coordinator (while “unofficially” also serving as Capital Campaign and Special Events Coordinators, Assistant, and even Development Manager when the role was void…all with no pay increase or incentive…but I digress).

I loved my job, not only because this is where I discovered my love for philanthropy and understood its marriage to governance, but I also felt a deep sense of purpose and gratification that could only come from serving in the nonprofit sector. The kind of self-fulfillment Professor Edmond explained to us in PAD 508, where she said, “people don’t work in the nonprofit sector with the hopes of having a high salary or becoming wealthy by any stretch. People work in the sector to feel like they are making a difference in the world, and in the lives of others.” Though this rationale was acceptable to me at the time, as my skill sets grew and they were transferrable, to many of my colleagues, however, it was not.

Making a difference was not paying the bills.

“Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector loses many talented staff because of salary, benefits and the lack of professional development opportunities,” says a former colleague. “The altruistic values of working in a nonprofit sector leads to undervaluing and underinvesting in its most critical resource which is the individual who deliver services to the most vulnerable members of our population.”

What’s more, according to The Nonprofit Times 2014 Salary and Benefits Report, “nonprofit organizations [in 2013] reported awarding average salary increases of 2.42 percent for all staff, down from 3.5 percent the previous year, with executive staff receiving average increases of 2.65 percent.”

What’s important to understand is that I’m not saying that wages and benefits have to be necessarily comparable to the government or the private sector, but that, as COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustments) rises across the board and the wage gap widens, it becomes increasingly difficult for the average American family to earn a decent living.

What do you think? Should the nonprofit salary and wage structure be reconstructed, or is it fine as is? Weigh in.

Thanks for joining me my friend, take care.

Yours In Service,