Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Higher Wages, But Uneven Distribution

By Pilar Oberwetter

I want to offer another perspective of wage issues within the nonprofit sector—not in level, but in distribution. Unlike the authors of the previous two postings, I feel that nonprofit salaries have increased in recent years. Not to amounts traditionally seen in the private sector, to be sure, but certainly higher than they used to be.

However, these salary increases have not been evenly distributed.

Almost universally, increased revenue and the related increase in salaries for nonprofit organizations and staff have been applied to back-office functions—not front line programs and staff. In other words, staff responsible for implementing programs, providing services and interfacing with clients do not see the same financial windfalls that the executive teams experience.

If dialogue and discussion on nonprofit salaries happens in a productive and proactive manner, equal distribution of salary increases needs to top that agenda. For me, the gradual eroding of mission priority throughout the sector— as indicated by the widening gap between executives and lay-staff within the sector—is the most distressing of all.

1 comment:

the odd one out said...

On this topic in general, let's also not underestimate this generation's ability to find a lifestyle suited to their chosen job sector. Besides every capacity to find affordable group housing, a quietly growing hostel industry and a renewed respect (/love?) for public transportation, this generation's volunteer service should have also affected a worldview that finds some value in learning to live simply (or simpler, at least). I think these and other factors are already at work in many places around this country.

I also think there is blue chip talent in today's nonprofit sector, making today's nonprofit wages. I think some of that talent has been there for a very long time, making those wages for a very long time. Of course there's also some dead weight, but if the financial crisis proved anything it's that there's also plenty dead weight in the for-profit sector, earning for-profit wages (plus bonuses).

On this post in particular, I am wondering if turnover has anything to do with wage inequity within nonprofits. I get the sense many of our generation tend to hop around every 2-3 years or even less; going from job to grad school to peace corps and back again. Every time someone leaves a front-line position, there's fierce competition for that spot, which puts candidates in a disadvantaged bargaining position, having to take what's offered. Meanwhile a small group stays for a decade or so and rises through the typical ladder to the executive level. I'm not saying there's no turnover at the executive level, I'm just hypothesizing that there is less of it, and everyone else is constantly churning about in a pool of stagnant wages.