The Most Money for the Least Amount of Work

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 9th, 2008 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Recently, I’ve been brain kneading (the visual I have as my brain works over an issue—the repetitive process of kneading bread, bringing it up to fold it over only to push it down and turn the dough a quarter to go through the same motion, over and over until the dough is ready) this whole issue of compensation in the nonprofit sector, piqued (or was it peeved) by the recent report saying that younger employees are looking to nonprofits for the same kinds of benefits and perks found in the corporate world. Combine this with the clear schooling I got from the class on nonprofit management that I’ve been teaching in La Salle’s MBA program—which was “everyone wants to make the most amount of money for the least amount of work”—and I knew it was time for this old dinosaur to pack it in.

And then I get a call from a reporter wanting to know if a practice that Scripps and some other universities and research institutes are using is a national trend. It seems that Scripps is offering mortgages (my assumption is low-interest, if not interest free) as an incentive for their top recruits to settle with them in Florida. A national trend? I wouldn’t say so. But a practice that colleges, universities, hospitals, and other large nonprofits have been using for quite some time? Absolutely. If you are a hot commodity and the nonprofit has the pockets deep enough to offer for-profit- like perks, why shouldn’t you and the nonprofit go for it?

Well, there is the rub, no? The mere fact that the reporter knew that some folks would undoubtedly raise eyebrows over this practice by a nonprofit says it all. Nonprofits aren’t supposed to reward like the big guys. But, what if you are a big guy? And you have the resources? And you want to get the best and brightest in whatever the field is to come and do what the best and brightest do, and do it for your nonprofit organization? Why shouldn’t you be able to do that? It isn’t the situation described to me by the other reporter who called me this week wanting to know what the “expert” response would be to the executive director receiving almost $100,000 in total compensation in an organization with a total budget a bit over $400,000. (Yes, that is a problem.)

It is not nonprofit versus for-profit. It is not what we are paid, but what we are paid in relation to the work that we actually do. This is true of for-profits and nonprofits alike. If a nonprofit research institute hires a scientist who ends up finding the cure for multiple sclerosis, who, pray tell, would begrudge—or even question the return on that investment–that scientist an interest-free mortgage? Do we begrudge all of the senior managers in for-profits their Blackberries? And there are a lot more senior managers walking around with free Blackberries than there are nonprofit employees walking around with interest-free mortgages.

People: let’s move on!

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.