Nonprofits Have Become Socially Irresponsible

Nonprofits have been burying a dirty secret and I'm not the only one saying so.

Some nonprofits, using the importance of their mission as an excuse, pay substantially below-market salaries and provide slim – or no – benefits to their employees. The media focuses on the few well-paid staff at high-profile non profits but ignore how poorly many nonprofit employees are paid.

Jed Emerson, Managing Director for Integrated Performance Uhuru Capital, facilitated a discussion at the NYU’s Social Enterprise conference, during which many people expressed frustration that the world’s best and brightest avoid the nonprofit sector because it pays so poorly. The audience was incredulous: Don’t we want the best and brightest working on solving the world’s biggest challenges – poverty, climate change, etc.?

At a recent Independent Sector conference, Diana Aviv, the organization’s president and CEO, urged nonprofits to take better care of their employees.

If our employees and their families can’t afford medical care, it limits their productivity,” she said. “If our transportation infrastructure makes it hard to get to work, it affects people’s performance. If we don’t collectively attend to the harm inflicted on our environment, polluted air. and climate change [these problems] will ultimately damage everyone’s work.

Nonprofit boards and their donors need to get past their discomfort with overhead. The mindset that the only good nonprofit is one that doesn’t spend a lot on people, benefits, and infrastructure is simply wrong.

This isn’t just my opinion. In the past I’ve highlighted similar discussions by The Bridgespan Group and Dan Pallotta founder, of Pallotta TeamWorks.

There are no easy answers, especially when nonprofits are facing what may be an even tougher year financially than what they've already experienced. But the public, donors. and boards must wake up to the consequences of underfunding: They have become part of the problem.

Social responsibility begins at home. And it's time to start cleaning house.

How can we solve this problem? Do you have an example of a non profit that pays well? How do they do it? Can the non profit sector solve this problem alone?

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