Fair Compensation for Your Employees

I was thrilled to see the compensation report recently released by RoadMap, DataCenter and the National Organizers Network: The Wages of Peace and Justice: National Compensation Survey of Social Justice Organizations 2012. For the first time ever, I saw salary information for the kinds of jobs I’ve held over the course of my 25-year career in nonprofit, social justice organizations; jobs titles like Canvass Director, Community Organizer and Campaign Manager. I was even happier to see the authors of the report connect compensation practices to social justice and organizational values.

I was thrilled to see the compensation report recently released by RoadMap, DataCenter and the National Organizers Network: The Wages of Peace and Justice: National Compensation Survey of Social Justice Organizations 2012. For the first time ever, I saw salary information for the kinds of jobs I’ve held over the course of my 25-year career in nonprofit, social justice organizations; jobs titles like Canvass Director, Community Organizer and Campaign Manager. I was even happier to see the authors of the report connect compensation practices to social justice and organizational values.

Interestingly, though compensation in social justice organizations is reportedly tied to values-based human resources and decision making, the study found that 56 percent of respondents say they have no established salary scale or written salary policy. While it is true that social justice organizations (especially the smallest) often operate fairly informally, I would argue that establishing a transparent way of determining salaries is highly consistent with fundamental organizing principles. Articulating the ways in which organizational values relate to compensation, and the ways in which they are reflected by practice, can assure staff that decisions which can feel very personal are in fact systematic and fair. When employees are confident they are being treated fairly, even if they wish they earned more, morale and therefore productivity and impact, is likely to be high.

In 2010, TSNE produced our own compensation study entitled Valuing Our Nonprofit Workforce: a Compensation Survey of and for Nonprofits in Massachusetts and Adjoining Communities. Our survey respondents spanned the nonprofit sector and included arts organizations, human service providers and others along with social justice orientated groups. It provides external, market data – important information for organizations tackling compensation issues. Comparing staff salaries to those of people doing similar work for other groups provides an opportunity to begin considering values. Does your organization want to be as competitive as possible? Is it more important that staff are paid in a rate that represents solidarity with your constituents?

Equally important, though is the concept of internal equity. In many of our organizations virtually everyone plays a different role. Thinking about internal equity can be like comparing apples to oranges. But the perception of fairness at this level can play a significant role in staff morale.  The study outlined some key questions about internal equity to consider when contemplating compensation:

  • Should employees who have been here longer make more than those doing similar jobs with less tenure?
  • What role should performance play in determining compensation?
  • Are there particular skills, like being bilingual for instance, that are so valuable they should be rewarded financially?
  • Are the aspects of some positions that are so demanding or unusual, like being on call or traveling away from home for long periods of time, that they warrant compensation?
  • What is the ideal ratio between the highest and lowest salary?

Looking Ahead

This fall, TSNE will begin surveying our constituents for an updated Valuing Our Nonprofit Workforce compensation report. We expect to publish our findings in early 2014. Organizations can use the updated market data to benchmark salaries and consider issues related to external equity. We also hope that the report will reinforce the importance of developing well thought out compensation policies and salary scales reflective of your organization's values.


Lyn Freundlich provides human resources coaching and consulting services to nonprofit organizations. She also trains supervisors and accidental human resources practitioners through our capacity building training series and in their own organizations, networks and associations. Contact trainings@tsne.org for more information about these services. 

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