On the YNPN Twin Cities blog, Lauren Van Schepen takes some lessons from a recent Gawker article about unpaid journalism and writing for free. In the post, Gawker argues that by restricting pay for younger writing professionals (or, you know, allowing people to “buy” internships for their kids at auctions), it allows only wealthy people to enter into the journalism and writing field.
And Van Schepen likens that to the nonprofit world. She shares how her experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA shaped who she has become professionally, but would not have been possible without a financial safety net from her parents.
My VISTA experience was possible because I knew I had financial support available from my family if I needed it. Would I have felt comfortable signing up for a year of minimum wage and state assistance if I didn’t have that support system in place? Probably not. We often bemoan the fact that nonprofit staff don’t reflect the communities they serve, that executive leadership is still predominantly male and white, and we pay lip service to the fact that we could deliver services in a more effective way if our staff was more diverse in race, experience, and perspective. But what action do we take to make that possible?
Programs like the Bush Foundation’s Staff Fellows are attempting to develop a more diverse leadership pipeline, and that’s wonderful. But it’s time we all drew clearer connections between salary and access. This isn’t simply about being paid well to do something good. It’s about, as Jefferson put it, reminding ourselves how easy it is to “trudge on, forgetting what a luxury it is to do what you want to do for a living rather than what you have to do to survive.” Let’s take a page from the journalist’s book and move the conversation beyond fair compensation to radically inclusive compensation. We would all, individually and as a sector, be better for it.
This is an issue I am familiar with, coming from the world of journalism. A couple of years ago, when I started thinking about how I could move into the nonprofit sector, I was accepted into a year-long service program. However, I simply couldn’t afford to live on that small of a stipend and had to turn it down. To be fair, neither the journalism or nonprofit industry is flush with cash, but this definitely impacts who can take certain jobs in the industry.
What do you think? How can we, as Van Schepen said, “move the conversation beyond fair compensation to radically inclusive compensation”?