The connection between compensation and diversity in the nonprofit sector

Image Credit: Gunnar Pippel, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Gunnar Pippel, Shutterstock

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.

Read the rest of her post here.

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”?

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    • M
    • May 21, 2013

    Money is the butter that spreads on toast in just about every industry. People without connections are the underclass — sometimes in large numbers because within certain stereotyped ethnicities exists a situation that feeds on itself. I have a recent MFA in film from UCLA and any years experience as a screenwriter — I have NO job nor a simple prospect. Even volunteer nonprofits discriminate against Hispanics.

    • NP
    • May 22, 2013

    Actions speak louder than words and if you spend time on any major nonprofit website you can tell they are not diverse. Diversity is empty rhetoric to mask their ulterior motive of replication or finding people from the same racial background and socioeconomic status as other employees rather than people who reflect the communities they serve.

    Sad to say but it seems that many large nonprofits believe only white people want to make a difference and know how to help impoverished multicultural communities. Jobs are like any other privilege that one group reserves for itself whether in the public, private or nonprofit sector.

    There is more than a little irony of groups that purportedly wanting to remove structural barriers to employment or increase the economic security of low-income individuals never hiring such people after they overcome adversity and graduate from college.

    Some organizations provide scholarships and other forms of assistance to the disadvantaged yet once their clients earn a college education but the same organization would never hire them because they don’t have the “right” qualifications or graduate from selective school. Life experience counts less than prestigious internships. These groups have money but not much credibility.

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