Friday, September 7, 2012

Let's Put Mission Before Money

A new and very important report has just been compiled by Road Map Consulting, the DataCenter and the National Organizers Alliance called, “Wages of Peace and Justice.” It is a national compensation survey of social justice organizations done in June 2012. (To download the Executive Summary or purchase the full report, go to

Most of the organizations surveyed had budgets under $1,000,000 and although organizations from 29 states participated, most the organizations were in New York or California. The median salary (meaning the same number above as below) for Executive Directors of social justice organizations was $67,000 and for development directors, $57,000. 92% offer some kind of health insurance, 82% offered dental insurance and 53%, vision. Over 1/4th of organizations also paid for alternative medicine such as chiropractic or acupuncture.

The report is interesting for many reasons: first, who is not interested in what other people earn? And second, many of the people this report surveyed are people I might know, so it is more interesting than the usual wage and benefit surveys which show that people who work in giant organizations make large salaries—a fact that is depressing and unhelpful.

But most interesting was from a commons view, a key question: “how strongly do your policies reflect your values?” Needless the say the responses to that were mixed, with 60% of organizations saying they pay a “living wage” but only 22% feeling that their salaries were “generous.” A more humble 23% want to increase salaries.

I have struggled for years to figure out how to decide what kind of incomes people in social justice work should make, including myself. Using criteria of fairness seems obvious, but fair to whom and compared to what? The median wage in the United States is $26, 364, the lowest since 1999. Median household income is $46,000.

This puts most full time social justice professionals at a wage more than twice that of the people on whose behalf they ostensibly work. On the other hand, with the education and skill level required of executive directors, even in small organizations, and the kind of jobs these same people could get at larger and more mainstream nonprofits, their wages seem a little low. When you factor in college debt that many young people are carrying, or the cost of having children, or the cost of retiring, wages tell only part of the story.

I used to have a lot of judgments about salaries and, I admit, that six figure salaries for nonprofit staff still may provoke a snide comment. But the issue from a commons lens is not what any one person makes but how can a society help the majority of people feel financially secure? In addition to all the important social justice work any of us are doing, we all have to work on a number of universal issues: health care is at the forefront; but also day care, family leave, education through college and the like. Other developed countries have this; and some countries even have some of these things enshrined into their constitutions. The first step is to stop asking, “What should I make? What do I deserve? How much do others like me make? What do I need?” and start asking, “What structures does the society have to have in place to allow all of us to pursue meaningful work?” Start with mission, rather than money. We are very creative people and I know we can figure this out.

1 comment:

Cynthia Silva Parker said...

Thanks for this, Kim. It's a great set of questions you raise. I've struggled with them too. Years ago I had a boss who was a Civil Rights era organizer. His question to us was "What do you need to make so that you don't have to moonlight?"