Young people have become in many ways disillusioned with the top-down hierarchical approaches that are so often found in traditional nonprofit organizations. Instead they embrace a leadership style that has emerged from growing up immersed in a technology-driven world that empowers people from many different backgrounds to come together to solve problems — and to do so quickly, efficiently, and at little to no cost. It’s this style that favors collaboration and team work that often goes against the norm within the sector – but how do you measure that?
If I had the opportunity to develop my own criteria for ranking the nonprofit sector – I’d take a look at how nonprofit organizations are adapting and changing with the times. Rather than stifling new talent, how are individuals able to grow and be challenged in their roles at nonprofits? How does this compare to their peers in the for profit community? How does the organization embrace diversity, work-life balance, and for goodness sake, does it have a Twitter feed?
This reminded me of studies that show that the stocks of corporations included on the annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work for in America have outperformed the market over time. I’ve been talking about the need for nonprofits to pay market rate salaries to their employees and for funders to support this use of their donations. I think a broader point would be that nonprofits should operate in a way that attracts great employees. Salary certainly isn’t the only element of satisfaction, but it is impossible for me to believe that an industry that systematically underpays employees can ever attract the top talent (just to be totally clear, I’m talking about the total talent pool. Obviously, there are many, many talented people who have chosen to work in the nonprofit field despite the lower compensation).
Some people have made the case that nonprofit employees “deserve” to be paid the market rate. Other people have challenged my argument by saying that high paid people in the for-profit sector should make less. My point in all of this is that paying higher salaries will result in more impact. So if you think about your giving as the impact per dollar that you can achieve, you should be insisting that your grantees compensate employees well and be willing to let them spend your grant funding on these higher salaries.
However, it is important to note that being the best place to work is about more than just pay. It is also about meaning. So the nonprofit field has a massive advantage over the for-profit field. But let’s not cede that advantage by offsetting it through low salaries.