Mode 1: Advocates for different issues don’t perceive their issues as connected and interdependent. Attention and resources are finite, and allocation is a zero-sum game. Fights about “root causes” and “whose issue is more important” are frequent.
Mode 2: Advocates recognize that their issues are connected in complex ways. Victories are celebrated across sectors, and folks are able to rally around issues that are “not theirs” at least in symbolic ways. However, identity is still primarily defined by issues, and there is tremendous pressure to make all major campaigns fully reflect the interests of all issue segments. Tremendous energy is spent making sure that language and framing is inclusive of all segments/interests in the larger movement, while finding common ground with opponents is shunned as betrayal of the larger movement.
Mode 3: Advocates recognize that issues are complex and interdependent, but that each victory builds the power necessary to enact a long-term agenda, even if each campaign does not fully address all of the issue interests of every segment of the broader movement. Organizations are able to devote significant resources to issues that are “not theirs” knowing that those resources will eventually be repaid with interest — both directly in future campaigns and indirectly via increased movement power before the next campaign even begins.
Conservatives often operate in mode 3. Progressives tend to operate mainly in mode 2 at best — and in mode 1 more often than we’d care to admit.
It’s also interesting to think about donor motivation. Most progressive donors give because they care deeply about one or more issues. Right-wing donors give because they seek power first and foremost. Moreover, if their policies are adopted ,right-wing donors often make more money than they contribute. Progressive donors often pay twice: once to activist groups and then again in higher taxes after their preferred policy wins.
- Nonprofit work is hard work. It is complex, adaptive work where the answers are not known in advance — we have to invent them as we go. Most nonprofits are tackling huge problems with few resources and many face deep-pocketed opposition.
- Nonprofit work is long-term work. The problems we’re working on — climate change, inequality and injustice — didn’t emerge overnight, and we’re not going to solve them in a couple of years.
- Because nonprofit work is hard, long-term work, the nonprofit sector needs to attract the most talented people we’ve got — and keep them around long enough for them to become wise and masterful practitioners.
- The skills and talent nonprofits need to solve big social problems are complex . We need to be able to draw in people with a broad range of experiences, skills and talents. Failure to do this not only hurts us tactically, it limits us strategically.
- Right now, access to wealth — inherited wealth, earned wealth from a prior career or spouses/partners who are the primary breadwinners in their households — is often an implicit filtering criterion for long-term nonprofit employment. This perpetuates and deepens the structural racism and inequity in our society, even as we say we are working to eliminate it.
- The student debt crisis is a huge, largely unacknowledged talent problem in the making for the nonprofit sector. While many millennials are drawn to mission-based work, their student debt will prevent them from entering the sector, or ensure that their stay here is short.
- The skills that it takes to build and sustain a successful and effective nonprofit are becoming more varied.
- Because of the explosion of nonprofits — and the immediate accessibility of a global audience afforded by the internet — nonprofits must not only be skillful at more things, they must be relatively more skillful at more things if they want to break away from the pack. The bar for success is, paradoxically, rising, even as the barriers to starting a nonprofit are falling.
- The skills that nonprofits must master to succeed in the twenty-first century are rapidly converging with the skills that organizations in other sectors must master to succeed.
- We can see this most clearly in the area of technology. But it’s not just technology, it’s also finance, leadership, marketing and more.
- The rise of mission-based “social enterprise” businesses and B-Corps further exacerbates the nonprofit’s sector’s intensity of competition for talented, mission-minded people.
- Nonprofits are therefore competing beyond the sector for talent more directly than ever before and the intensity of this competition is only going to continue to increase.
- Nobody expects (or deserves) to get rich working for a nonprofit.
- Many nonprofits are (or can be) amazing places to work. People will sacrifice some amount of money for challenge, meaning, flexibility and autonomy.
- Despite this, we should not expect nonprofit workers to forgo home ownership, children and a secure retirement in order to work in the sector.
- If nonprofits want to successfully compete for talent — and keep good people around for the long haul, they need to pay enough so that money isn’t an issue, then out-compete other employers on meaning, relationships, autonomy and opportunity.
- The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is often more than the median nonprofit is paying right now.
- The amount of money that makes “money not be an issue” for the diverse, talented people we need to attract and retain is not insanely large. People who are drawn to and can succeed at the complex, adaptive challenges of nonprofit work tend to have strong intrinsic motivation and are rarely highly materialistic.
- There are many roles in nonprofits for which it is believed to be difficult to objectively and fairly evaluate employee performance and/or contribution to either the organization’s bottom line or its mission impact.
- Nonprofits rarely cut low performing staff.
- Nonprofits rarely if ever pay their top performers significantly more than their median or low performers.
- Most nonprofits would rather spend additional dollars growing their team or launching new programs and accept turnover as a “fact of life” than invest in retaining their best people for the long haul.
- Nonprofits rarely account for the full costs of turnover: lost relationships, lost knowledge, lost productivity, damage to morale, etc.
- Many of the nonprofit sector’s most highly skilled people eventually are forced to leave the sector entirely or go into private practice as consultants in order to meet their financial needs.
- The “consultant-ization” of the nonprofit sector has some benefits (e.g. rapid, flexible team formation, deep specialization, diffusion of knowledge, etc.) but also considerable costs.
- While nonprofit culture and management practices contribute to some of the sector’s dysfunctions around compensation,
nonprofit board members, donors and funders play a significant role in shaping the sector’s culture and determining how it allocates resources.
- The overhead myth, preferences for new programs over proven effectiveness, underinvestment in leadership development, failure to admit and embrace failure — these phenomena all contribute to unhealthy ideologies about compensation in the nonprofit sector.
- Nonprofit boards rarely involve themselves in staff salary structures or policies, restricting themselves to setting CEO compensation and perhaps approving incremental increases to the overall salary pool during the budgeting process.
- Foundation program officer salaries often serve as an effective upper bound on nonprofit CEO compensation.
- Funders rarely reward their highest-performing grantees with game-changing infusions of general support dollars — and even more rarely do they cut their low-performing grantees to free up resources for their high performers.
- Many funders are happy to reward effort rather than results. This is closely tied to risk aversion, because big results require big risks and it is often hard to claim credit for long-term success.
- There is no silver bullet solution to these challenges, but the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors must work together to open a more courageous conversation if we are to make progress.
Continue reading 32 Theses About Nonprofit Compensation
I’d love to see a course for leaders (or prospective leaders) of social change organizations built around the following core readings:
- “Nonprofit Strategy Revolution” by David La Piana
- “Immunity to Change” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey
- “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath
- “The MoveOn Effect” by David Karpf
What else would you add to this list?
I’m pleased to announce the release of “Engagement Organizing,” a short whitepaper about the culture and technology of building power for social change in a networked era. I had the great pleasure of collaborating with my dear friend Matt Price, and I’m really pleased with the final results. If you are working to make progressive change in the world, please give it a read and share your thoughts with us at http://engagement-organizing.org.
This didn’t make it into the paper on Engagement Organizing that we’re about to release, but I thought it was an important point on its own. Curious to hear your thoughts.
One thing is common to all of the engagement organizations we interviewed: authenticity. These are organizations that are so comfortable with their identity and able to explicitly connect their work of the moment to deeply-held core values that their supporters feel it and respond to it with higher levels of engagement than in other organizations. In a world where people are less trusting all the time, authenticity is a critical foundation of social change.
I’m working on a fairly big chunk of writing about advocacy campaigns, organizing and strategy. (More on that very soon!) In the meantime, one idea that popped out along the way that didn’t really fit into the main thrust of the piece was the observation that, for many organizations, there’s a deep tension between building an army of passionate followers and being credible with the not-already-converted. One manifestation of this tension, with which we’re all probably familiar, is the organization that is extremely fired up but decisionmakers don’t take them seriously. More common, though, is the organization that is well positioned to be credible, but extremely weak. The creative challenge, I think, is to be both passionate and credible.
I’ve been reading and thinking a bit about “collective impact” lately. (Here’s the seminal article introducing the buzzword.) It’s a solid, mostly-common-sense framework for thinking about collaborative/coalition efforts. There are five elements that define a “collective impact” approach:
- Common agenda. If you don’t have a shared vision for change, you can’t really expect to collaborate effectively.
- Mutually reinforcing activities. Successful collaborators need to coordinate their activities, play to their strengths, and know their role in the larger effort.
- Continuous communication. If you don’t communicate regularly you can’t hope to build enough trust and shared language to collaborate effectively.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Jon, why are you wasting my time with such obvious folderol?” Most coalition efforts I’ve seen fulfill these first three conditions pretty well. Hang in there, it’s the next two that are the most interesting:
- Shared measurement systems. Hmm, now we’re getting somewhere. Collective impact suggests that collaborative efforts need agree on a shared set of indicators of success and the systems for monitoring and reporting on those indicators. Without shared indicators, collaborators have no way to really know if they are succeeding or failing, and no feedback systems that allow them to “course correct” as needed.
- A backbone support organization. Proponents of collective impact assert that successful collaboration efforts need to have a strong, staffed organization at their center, in order to run the collaborative process with sufficient intensity and focus to drive it forward in the face of distractions. It’s not clear to me whether they think a strong “lead coalition partner” fulfills this condition or not. (I suspect not.)
It’s these last two points where most collaborations falter, and probably not concidental that they require sustained, long-term resource commitments. How do collaborations you’re involved with stack up?