Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
Let’s be the change
Last week, the Obama administration issued new labor rules about overtime. Salaried employees who earn less than $47,476 now must be paid overtime for hours in excess of 40 hours in a week.
This is great news, right?
Well U.S. PIRG, a coalition of state nonprofits around the U.S., doesn’t think so. Their statement, according to Huffington Post:
Organizations like ours rely on small donations from individuals to pay the bills. We can’t expect those individuals to double the amount they donate,” the group said in its statement. “Rather, to cover higher staffing costs forced upon us under the rule, we will be forced to hire fewer staff and limit the hours those staff can work – all while the well-funded special interests that we’re up against will simply spend more” (emphasis theirs).
I think that’s horribly wrong.
That thinking is the problem, not the solution.
Nonprofit staffers are often paid well below their skills. And they may work long hours in sometimes tough conditions. Too often, it’s assumed bad pay and long hours are compensated for by mission.
People can’t feed their families on mission.
We have AmeriCorps members being taught about applying for SNAP. Seriously, that’s broken. And every bit as wrong as Walmart using state benefits to supplement their lousy salaries.
The U.S. PIRG statement above is also defeatist. It reeks of martyrdom.
Why should those who dedicate themselves to nonprofit work look forward to a life of low wages, long hours and few benefits?
No really, why?
“We can’t expect individuals to double the amount they donate.” Why not? What a pessimistic view of donors! Of course, they could. Or more donors could help.
Nonprofit staffers aren’t the only ones responsible for fixing the faults in our social safety net or improving our quality of life.
They’re trying to solve our problems. But they’re not the only ones responsible.
We all are.
Our governments are. Our foundations are. Our corporations are. All of us are.
I understand in the short-term this won’t be easy.
This new ruling might be a stress test for our organizations.
Smart organizations often ask themselves: are we needed? Are we serving our cause or are we saving our organization? Is there a way we could do this better?
They’ll use this change to take a fresh look at how they operate.
The organizations that understand fundraising is about developing partners for the mission – not just about getting people to give you money – will invest in fundraising.
They’ll craft a compelling case for support. They’ll ensure every staff member, every board member, every volunteer understands it and is eager to share it. They’ll pay attention to donors and funders.
They’ll invest in volunteer development. If the objective is furthering the cause, then is there a way to involve people as volunteers?
In short, they’ll stop thinking like martyrs and start thinking like leaders.
No more martyrs.
Boards, funders, executive directors: start insisting that staffers be paid fairly. Don’t expect excellence at bargain basement prices, either. (Qualifications: Master’s Degree and 10 years’ experience. Salary: $25,000.)
Don’t demand 24/7 dedication. People have lives – and people with full lives make better employees.
No more martyrs.
Nonprofit staff: you need to push this, too. Give your work your absolute best. Work hard, and learn as much as you can. But learn how to set boundaries. Support each other. (And don’t take the bait on job openings with impossible requests. Trust me, you’ll always regret it.)
No more martyrs.
There is also a gender aspect to this, as most nonprofit workers are women.
Mary Beth Hastings offers some first-hand experience in Overtime and Social Justice. You should read it. But here’s an excerpt that really hits home for me:
When you zoom out, this is what you see: a nonprofit sector fueled by the time and talents of young women, who have likely passed up opportunities to work for higher salaries elsewhere so they can pursue a passion for social change. Far too often, nonprofit leaders have been telling them their commitment to social justice will not be rewarded beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing good. We can do better, and it appears that thanks to the Obama Administration we finally will.
What if we all spoke with one voice about this?
What if, instead of complaining about these new rules, we embraced them and fairer pay? And then invited people to join us more fully in our missions? (Yes, that means investing in your fundraising and outreach programs.)
If our organizations paid wages that people could live on – and have a life on – we’d attract and keep people with a zeal for this work. And our deplorable rates of staff turnover would end. Our causes would be better served.
We could turn our supporters and volunteers into advocates – true partners, not just funding or labor sources.
Think about what that might make possible.