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Underpaid and overworked: A call-to-action for the non-profit sector

Having worked alongside countless dedicated non-profit leaders, I know that many are becoming burnt out. Exhausted. Deflated. Tired of continually striving to do more with less—to meet increasing reporting and contractual demands with fewer resources.

I’ve seen how exhausted and frustrated these non-profit leaders and staff can be. I’ve felt their frustration. And too often, I’ve seen them walk away from work that matters to them and feeds their soul to secure jobs that compensate them more fairly for their contributions.

I also know that many of these non-profit leaders are so dedicated to the work they do and those that they serve that they often work 50- or 60-hour weeks, with only 35 of those hours being paid.

And more often than not, because they have chosen to work in the non-profit sector, they are being paid less than those who do similar jobs in the for-profit sector. In fact, the Driving Change: A National Study of Nonprofit Executive Leaders (2011), notes that “four in ten board members state that the level of compensation they were able to offer was a significant hindrance to their ability to recruit a new executive director… more of a hindrance than other factors such as internal resources and knowledge, and competition from other sectors.”[1]

Let’s be real here. Those working in the non-profit world—as heart centred and service oriented as they are—need to be fairly compensated for their skills and expertise!

While strides are being made to align salaries and benefits with the corporate world to offset the loss of talent within the non-profit sector, I question whether this priority is surfacing in discussions among those who fund our local non-profits. I don’t sit at those tables, so I don’t know.

However, I do know that as non-profit leaders (whether you sit on a Board or you are an Executive Director), we need to keep fair compensation on our radar and to find creative ways to ensure that as a sector we don’t lose those staff who are the heartbeat of our organization.

It is these passionate, driven individuals who breathe life into our programs and services; who are the faces of our organizations in the community; who build trust relationships with those we serve so that our work can truly have an impact. If they were to leave we’d slide down the snakes back to bottom and have to re-build our ladders again.

And realistically, how much more difficult is it to continually be recruiting and training new staff to step into the shoes and role of the talented individuals who have sought other opportunities? What is lost in the transition process? What is the cost associated with recruiting, hiring, training, and re-building? Maybe investing more in our existing staff makes sense. It’s something to consider.

As a non-profit leader, what can you do to attract and retain the best talent over the long-term? What could non-profit leaders advocate for to improve the situation? Where does the change need to start? It’s time to get creative and challenge the status quo!


[1]Driving Change: A National Study of Non-profit Executive Leaders, HR Council for the Non-Profit Sector, 2012 <<>> Accessed August 17, 2018. Page 43

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