Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Merging the Wage Discussion

By Robert Egger

First of all, I think that’s important to acknowledge that most who work in corporate America love their jobs and products just as much as those of us in the nonprofit side. I fight the stereotypes everyday (who is homeless, etc..) so I don’t want to imply that for-profit employees are any less committed to community than I/we are. But…society views the contributions of corporate America as “greater” than those of the nonprofit sector, so the wage scale slides higher in their favor. Is that right? Of course not….that’s why I have spent so much time trying to help promote the Value of the sector (see the V3 Campaign).

I’m also hearing that a growing number of young people want to merge their income, lifestyle and spirituality…in effect making a solid wage while not only NOT doing harm, but actually doing good. Many have ventured into nonprofits (straight from school or from jobs they do not find fulfilling) thinking they will find it there. They won’t…at least not yet. This is why this discussion is so key. But there are two parts---

  1. To get to the point where we can offer solid, well distributed wages AND upward mobility in the nonprofit sector, we’re going to have to explore new hybrids that merge for-profit and not-for-profit concepts (Look up social enterprise, micro-credit, LC3 Corporation - all concepts already ongoing). But...
  2. This will involve a new distribution of resources. In short---we’re going to have to discuss wage in both sectors while also analyzing the impact of their work.

Frankly—we still view the contributions of for-profit and not-for profit through a bifurcated (and gender biased) lens. For-profits (male) creates wealth while not-for-profits (female) nurture community. Once you get your heads around that, then you can begin to understand why we’re in this trap. In reality BOTH sides are equal. BOTH need the other to thrive. But as long as we adhere to this outdated and frankly, idiotic separation, then we will appear at odds, and remain locked in boring battles over which has a better campground.

Our current economic meltdown allows for a robust new debate, and I urge you to join in. What is a good wage in BOTH the sectors? How can consumers create economic incentives that encourage (rather than mandate) behaviors we support, in BOTH sectors? Is it time for a nonprofit NASDAQ? Should you be able to get an “annual tax dividend” when you invest in a high performing non-for-profit?

If you are under 35—you need to be all up in this dialogue, as you all are going to get the bill.


the odd one out said...

You'll have to make a better argument as to wages being an indication of why American society values for-profit over non-profit. Based on the latter end of this post (LC3s etc.) the problem isn't necessarily that society doesn't value wealth and community equally; the problem may rest with nonprofits' inability to capture the full measure of their value to the market. Two questions come to mind if nonprofits want to do just that:

1. Are we willing to put a price on community? Maybe somehow we already have but this would be a stock exchange that commodifies community. I wouldn't mind, personally, but I'm sure there are those who would.

2. How prepared are we to accept the fact that large NGOs like Oxfam or Amnestty International would become the Google and Microsoft of the nonprofit world? I'm talking about corporate nonprofits reigning over a plethora of smaller ones just trying to get by but sometimes being very successful (think, who would be the Apple in this scenario? Catholic Relief Services?). Again, I'm not opposed personally, but I can imagine many who would be. Of course, maybe the nonprofit world already appears this way to others.

regger said...

Wage is only one indication of society’s bias, but it's the one that is most germane to this dialogue (others include anemic media coverage, a limited voice in the political process, even the word “non”).

But, to keep the flow going, the whole concept of measuring “community” is, in fact, going on in both Brazil and the UK. FYI---the UK, along with Estonia are the only countries that have a Minister of the Third Sector (although many hate the term “third”). Anyway…both are developing a social stock market (with support from Ford Foundation grants).

Furthermore, in the UK, they are investing in Social Enterprise with the goal of it producing 10-13% of the GNP in the next 15 years. They have an entirely different view of the evolving role of the sector that is much more…shall we say, advanced.

If you are interested, I highly recommend hooking up with Livewire (, an on-line service from the UK’s Social Enterprise Magazine. GREAT info.

And to your point about big vs. small---I gotta be honest, I think that there is a real shake out coming. While big isn't bad, I think that more nimble, fluid groups will rise up to challenge/replace some of the bulkier, older models---just like in business.

For cream to rise though---we must have solid analysis, in the media, everyday....hence my interest in the NASDAQ idea.