Paying Nonprofit Executive Directors

Blue Avocado, a fantastic nonprofit e-newsletter, published a great article about salaries of nonprofit executive directors earlier this week.

One of the commenters to this Blue Avocado article (he/she was anonymous so I can’t link to his/her blog) made several points I agreed with and several I didn’t.  I figured I would post the text of my reply comment in my own blog, adding the line breaks and bold fonts I would’ve loved to put in the original posting.

I respect your frustration, especially in a time of tight budgets and program cuts. I also completely agree that comparing salaries without taking cost of living into account is absurd. Thanks for making that point.

I disagree with your comparison of execs who accept adequate (or even generous) compensation to execs who “care;” it implies that well-paid execs do not care. This mutually exclusive relationship is not accurate. Even the most devoted execs can have medical expenses, family expenses, student loans, and other reasons to require competitive compensation.

I also disagree that it’s automatically stupid to have a six-figure-earning exec because there is so much need right now.
1) There’s always need, even in economic booms. Infrastructure is always necessary for meeting needs effectively and efficiently. An exec is part of infrastructure.
2) I agree that income disparity is horrible. People are taking home huge yearly salaries while nonprofits have to cut programs and close their doors. My question is this: why would we target nonprofit execs to give up their professional compensation but be perfectly happy to let other (mostly better-paid) execs take it all home? Why are we only Robin Hood within nonprofits and not across sectors?

-Emily

For full context, please check out the article as well as the comments (especially the one I replied to).

Volunteers and Employees

Other teacher: I love teaching here, but the lack of benefits is really hard.

Me: I’m really new, so I’m still just so happy to earn money to do a job I’d do as a volunteer.

Thoughts:
1. I’m really lucky to enjoy my job so much.
2. Many nonprofit jobs have historically been unpaid, and many still work closely with unpaid volunteers. Maybe that shift from volunteer to employee is what’s holding the sector back from competitive compensation packages in the present. Maybe we’re collectively still sort of wondering if we should be paid at all.

Creating Change (By Our Powers Combined)

Thanks to Ben at Island94.org for getting me to read Dan Pallotta at Harvard Business.

Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr
Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr

Pallotta argues here that since our problems (i.e. hunger) are massive and systemic, the only way for nonprofits to stand a chance of winning against them is to consolidate efforts into one unified effort to eradicate the problem within a stated time frame.  He advocates setting an audacious, specific goal and restructuring our sector around it so that it’s not about the little nonprofit’s mission, but about all of us reaching the goal.  Only this larger vision will shift us away from the “fragmentation and redundancy” we’re currently facing.

I see what he means.

However, I’m coming from a bias against his argument because I don’t like or trust large organizations.  I wrote about it here about a year ago.  To me, they turn humans into numbers and the momentum they build up for the sake of efficiency is actually slow to change with the times.  That being said, when a billion people are starving in a world with plenty of food, maybe it’s ok to focus on efficiency at the expense of personability and adaptability.

Ok, so let’s say Pallotta convinced me that bigger is better and that the process of consolidating wouldn’t completely derail our work for decades.  I still have a couple major questions about how this would play out, and I’m actually quite interested in the answers.

1) How would the consolidated nonprofit system relate to current systems?

Would we be creating a giant system for the sake of efficiency to clean up after the other system? That does not seem efficient to me.

Or will this second giant system fundamentally change the first one?  How will that not turn into a political mire?  And what if it does succeed?  How could something that big phase itself out or radically change itself to pursue a different goal?  Are there any precedents for that actually happening?

2) How is this different?

How would this plan produce an organization whose impact is different from the United Nations and the World Health Organization – benevolent organizations that provide some leadership to their fragmented membership?

What about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – organizations that arguably crippled many countries’ development when they tried to make large-scale change for the better?

And from a national standpoint, how would it differ from the USA’s failed War on Drugs?

I’m not convinced from this one article that Pallotta has hit upon The Answer, but it was a great read that’s provided a ton of food for thought.

One-Page Strategic Plan!

My organization has a one-page strategic plan, and it’s pretty much the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

Go us!

Seriously, I’ve been a skeptic of the net value of a strategic plan given the amount of time put into writing it and the likelihood of it being used. With this one, though? Consider me on board!

Uncrossed Funding Streams

Have you ever noticed how many programs out there serve only one age group?

Day 219/365 by Great Beyond on Flickr
Day 219/365 by Great Beyond on Flickr

Even when we can manage to combine some form of childcare with adult classes, it’s often not free and basically never addresses the needs older children.

This isn’t because we believe that youth and teens are unimportant, or that our students have no children, or that it’s easy for a family to be in four different places for four different services all at the same time.  It’s because the funding is dictating the structure of our services, and not the actual need.

That being said, without funding we wouldn’t have any services.

Solutions?

The Super-Effective Volunteer

As the coordinator of an all-volunteer teaching staff, a large and fantastic part of my job is volunteer support.   I don’t know how I ended up with such great people, and I hope they stay forever.  I write this in hopes that more volunteers will contribute the way mine do.

I’d like to put it out there for whomever is listening that the most effective volunteers are not the ones who arrive with their own agenda.

Super Boy by Łéł†Āķ Mă3ý on Flickr
Super Boy by Łéł†Āķ Mă3ý on Flickr

Super-effective volunteers have their eyes and ears open to the needs of the organization. When something comes up and they have the ability to help with it, they speak up and dive in.

And you know, any help is help. Coming in and telling me exactly what you’d like to do is something, and I’m as grateful as I should be and I try hard to work with you.

But take a step back and think how amazing it is when a program realizes it needs something, asks for someone to do it… and then someone does it.

And now think about how well a volunteer gets to know the organization by helping where it’s needed.  Think what a great position this puts the volunteer in to make suggestions, push for change, and bring a relevant and mutually beneficial to-do list to the table.

Are you that kind of volunteer?

Lessons from Clothing Donations

notice the restless bag of clothes by revecca on Flickr
'notice the restless bag of clothes' by revecca on Flickr

I have had bags of clothes sitting in my apartment waiting for me to donate them for something like a year. Maybe longer. And last week, I finally donated them.

It was one of those unfortunate tasks that was neither important nor urgent but that would take more than a few minutes.  So I just sort of stopped seeing the bags of clothes being slowly shredded by my cats.  When I did occasionally notice them, it was never a good time to dive into such a big project (?) so I left them for “later.”

Lessons learned:

The factor that started me tackling this silly little project with its surprisingly large impact on my living space was a conversation that became a plan.  Those things are powerful.

On Doing “Good” Things

Girl in Feathered Hat by George Eastman House on Flickr
Girl in Feathered Hat by George Eastman House on Flickr

I would like to state for the record that doing what I think is right is not about my soapbox or my ego or some kind of beautiful self-sacrifice.  It is about my own self-interest.

Allow me to explain:

  1. I believe that my own security is jeopardized when others are in a state of desperation.
  2. I want to be part of a world wider than my own socioeconomic status.
  3. I would rather be defined as a person than as a worker; better to be a citizen than a consumer.
  4. Life is too short to spend your days working against what you really want.

So I can’t stand it when people who hear I work for a nonprofit call me noble.  I’m in it for myself too.

Bridesmaids and Best Practices

I’ve been extremely distracted with personal things for the past week plus, and one of those distractions was being a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding.

The Story

Several of us visited the site of the wedding a few weeks ago.  It’s a gorgeous outdoor site about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities.  We talked about the general plan for the audience and the general direction of the procession.  We talked about meeting in a different place and processing from an unexpected direction.  We had the rehearsal in the Twin Cities the day before the wedding.  We weren’t at the actual site because of the commute.  We talked about spacing and order and meeting times all of those good rehearsal things.

Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS on Flickr
Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS IMAGES on Flickr

The day of the wedding, we were dealing with unexpected and unexperienced things.  We were putting up a few decorations, enlisting the help of friends who had arrived early, and navigating effective communication with important people we didn’t really know, such as the parents of the bride and groom. There were nerves and deadlines and uncomfortable shoes – it was just totally different to be there than it was to plan it.

While in the thick of this reality, I completely lost any sense of those plans we had made weeks ago and even the day before.  I remembered most of them, but they somehow didn’t seem relevant anymore.  Everything around me was totally different than it was when we had made those plans, so my instinct was to improvise.

Looking back on that instinct is frustrating.  I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, but I felt compelled to go against it and start from scratch .  It’s kind of ridiculous.

The Point

The point of this is that I see parallels in nonprofits.  Most of us have a great idea of what the best practices are, from communication to filing to education.  We have a plan.  But then we come to deadlines or audits or budget cuts and there is a definite instinct to toss the plans out and start from scratch.

How can we not only share best practices, but do so in a way that acknowledges that they’ll feel way different in the midst of actual reality?

Has anyone else noticed this instinct?

Investing Time in the Process

Sometimes we still think like the small program we were just a few years ago.

Our program has seen exponential growth in the past few years.  We have accomplished amazing things.  Our trajectory is to double again in two years, which is both daunting and exciting.  One way to smooth this is to focus on processes: you need them, you need to be able to share / replicate them easily, and they need to be as streamlined as possible.  In other words, you should take the time to write them down.

I think we could have been much more efficient even just in these past couple of months by simply writing down everything we taught a temp how to do, or even having our temps keep up the lists.  It would have taken slightly longer to do the first time, but would have left us with an easy-to-replicate process.  Simple time-investment.  Instead, with every new temp and new employee, we’ve had to reinvent the wheel, racking our brains to figure out what to teach them when and how.  It’s a waste of time.  It happens because we go into it in a one-time mentality when it’s really a piece of a pattern that will repeat.

I’m really not a person who’s all about standardizing and formalizing, but when you have a big program, it’s the only effective way to do it.

How do you go about transitioning your thinking from small-scale to large-scale?  What are best practices for understanding what should be a process and creating and using said process?