You can’t pay people more.

Perhaps you’ve heard Bernie Sanders going around talking about income inequality. And I think this discussion should start in the nonprofit sector. Why? Because we are the lowest paid sector. Nonprofit pay equity is… to put it mildly, in the toilet. Proof below!

Chart courtesy of reader survey on blue avocado 2010

I went to a nonprofit association a couple years ago and said, hey, let’s pay people more. The person i met with said, no, we can’t pay people more. What’s the deal with nonprofit pay? Why are we the lowest paid sector?

Here’s a myth about our sector: You can’t pay people more.

When people ask for raises, they get answers like this:

— Donors need to see low overhead, sorry
— Don’t you believe in the mission? Don’t be GREEDY!
— We can’t pay people more, it’s just not in the budget
— Our board will not approve an increase in salaries
— We don’t negotiate salaries here
— We just didn’t get that big grant/contract so everyone can’t have a cost of living wage increase this year
— You should be happy with your 1% cost of living wage increase

Have you ever heard any of these excuses?

Are you a nonprofit leader? Do you want to keep your job? Guess what. Donors are leaving. Email open rates are down according to the new M+ R report. If you want to save your job, you CAN pay people more. because donors are leaving in droves. Online giving was flat in 2018

Why are we losing donors?

Simply because we are not keeping our good fundraisers. You drive them away with low wages and such little vacation and support for their roles… that they are saying things like this:

What do fundraisers say?

Pummeled by starvation wages, nonprofit fundraisers look outside the sector for their next opportunity. Over the last several weeks I’ve been talking with a lot of fundraisers who either want to get a higher salary or leave their current job. When I ask them how it’s going, they say things like this:

“I am sick of being flat broke” says one fundraiser

“I’m actively looking to train into data analytics so i can get hired by a company outside the sector” says another fundraiser.

“My boss promised me $77K in the interview, and then changed it to $50K when I accepted the position”

“My boss promised me paid vacation and rescinded it”

“She promised me paid education and then pretended she hadn’t said that when i handed her the tuition bill.”

“My boss won’t fire this person who is being insubordinate and won’t do their job, and undermining my authority”

“I came on as part time originally, and I just realized I’ve been underpaid for 4 years! My boss sees no reason to have an annual review meeting with me”

“We are using urgent care clinics which can only do basic procedures instead of actual healthcare and I need to see a neurologist.”

Fact: You CAN pay people more.

We know people ARE being paid more. Specifically, men are being paid more. At every level of experience. As you can see from our Bloomerang research, it’s obvious… we are underpaying women + female-identified people.

Do you wonder that people want to leave, when there’s behavior like this? As you can see, salary isn’t the ONLY thing people are dissatisfied with, according to our research of over 1100 nonprofit professionals in fall 2018, but it is definitely in the top 5 of things people want to stay in the sector. 

9 ways to give people more (including pay!)

— To mitigate the gender pay gap, Become transparent with salaries so that people do not inadvertently get underpaid.

— Higher hourly wage, lower hours. You can really do this. get people to work 20 hours a week instead of “40” for the same salary.

— Capacity building grants. Look into which foundations give these, to get more money for a larger fundraising staff, training and budget, and when you invest in fundraising you get higher amounts of money coming into your organization.

— Decrease executive salaries until they are only 3/1 over staff salaries and redistribute to staff. If your CEO is getting paid $120K and your staff is mostly getting paid $35,000, then consider taking the CEO salary down to $90K and sharing out that $30K out to every staff member.

— Increase monthly giving revenue to help staff get paid more. This is a source of renewable unrestricted income for you and if you’re not thinking about how to implement this you’re not thinking about the future of your organization.

— Sit down with staff and create a plan to build a culture of philanthropy- where everyone is a fundraiser- and make a goal of X dollars depending on how much you want to increase salaries.. get people to take the strengthsfinder test and figure out which fundraising tasks they are uniquely suited to.

— Give people more paid vacation. That’s right. You can’t pay them more, right now, perhaps, but you can help them feel more rested and focused in the time they ARE at work. Resist the false urgency of capitalism and patriarchy.

— Agitate for higher funds for your cause area from your local county, province, city, or state.

— Give people more money for continuing education, and better titles, so they can negotiate a higher salary somewhere else.

If you want help getting more monthly donors for your nonprofit, getting your good people to stay, or finding a new fundraising job, just book a call here:

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