News and Events

Tackling Pay Equity in the Nonprofit Sector

POSTED ON March 17, 2022

After two years of living through a Pandemic, we all have new insights on what matters most to us, how we want to spend our time, and what we want and expect in our compensation. These insights may be part of what’s driving the “great resignation” or “great reshuffle” as folks make new choices that better meet their expectations.   

Last week, King County released a study that shared what many of us in the field have known for a very long time. Employees within the nonprofit sector – including most that offer youth development programming – are woefully underpaid. The study, commissioned by King County through the Vets and Human Services Levy, and conducted by 501 Commons, is not surprising, and yet we hope it may offer some clear information that can begin to transform our sector to be not one of scarcity, but one that clearly values the wellbeing of our staff members (including the financial wellbeing of staff). This survey gives us data that helps make the case that nonprofit staff are often underpaid as compared to government employees in similar roles.

It also didn’t take a regional survey for some local nonprofits to tackle the issue by shifting their internal practices to elevate pay equity and get to “living wages.” Still, the definition or exact amount that constitutes a living wage is inconsistent. In the fall, CHOOSE 180, a member of YDEKC, took a public leap to tackle internal pay equity and bumped their lowest-wage workers up to a $70,000 per year salary. Just a few weeks ago, Food Lifeline bumped their minimum to $25 an hour, or $52,000 per year, also in service of a “living wage.”

At YDEKC, inspired by CHOOSE 180 and conversations that were had at our fall Member Summit, we have been continuing the conversation about actions that we could take as an organization and actions to encourage in our sector to address pay inequity. While we at YDEKC have not yet been able to accomplish all of the suggestions below, we are working to make changes where possible and will continue to learn from our members and studies like the Nonprofit Wage & Benefits Survey. Some of the discussions that were held addressed the following action steps:  

  • Address staff wellbeing beyond pay, including improved employer benefits packages including retirement, health care, wellness benefits, and flexible scheduling. 
  • Create a confidential space for employees to express burnout, fatigue, and financial hardships with a commitment to take action when possible on concerns. 
  • Educate board of directors about livable wages in the greater Seattle area.
  • Incorporate salaries as part of programming when applying for grants and advocate for pay equity when communicating with funders.
  • Allow for and encourage budgeting, funding, and pay transparency with staff. 
  • Address systemic racism and have difficult and uncomfortable conversations to acknowledge its inherent impact on generational wealth, racial privileges, and its correlation to the rapidly rising cost of living in the area.
  • Implement quarterly or annual salary analysis reviews for staff with benchmarking systems and current openings for the same or similar positions to compare wages and benefits. You can compare salary data here for nonprofit roles in King County, current as of summer 2021.
  • Connect with other fundraisers in the field to discuss strategy.
  • Add emergency funding or additional release time for staff experiencing a financial crisis or during widespread economic crises or natural disasters within the area.

These are just some of the ideas our team has been talking about, as this bulleted list is not exhaustive of the ongoing discussions within our sector. We know that there are no simple answers and that there are many reasons why each bullet above may be challenging in implementation, but it’s time for us to start changing from within while we also push government and philanthropy to change.  

It is imperative that we acknowledge the consequences of low pay in nonprofits and that we consistently address it within our sector. Low wages result in higher stress, higher turnover that makes it harder to support the young people and communities we are built to serve, and fewer skilled applicants for every new role that is posted. Conversely, paying staff higher wages results in more skilled-applicant pools (and therefore stronger teams), improved wellbeing for staff, less turnover, greater impact from our change-making efforts, and more. What are you doing within your organization to elevate issues concerning compensation? 

We hope you will join us to continue the conversation on April 22 in a Thriving Leaders Forum to reimagine pay equity in youth-serving organizations. While there are no easy answers, there are also many ways to continue to tackle various aspects of the scarcity mentality in our field. We seek to elevate many of the complicated aspects of this problem, from government contracting to philanthropy to internal benchmarking processes that keep our “comparison to the market” low. This will be an interactive opportunity to bring your ideas and challenges to a space for peer learning with your colleagues, as well as to hear from folks tackling this issue from different angles. We hope to see you there!