A Perfect Storm?

Even though it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be able to change the world, I know that at the very least I can work toward making a difference within my small corner of it.

As a result, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn I am passionate about the work I do within the non-profit sector (also known as the voluntary, charity, community or non-governmental sector).

I work with other dedicated, enthusiastic, hardworking, pragmatic, and forward-thinking people who accept making less money and getting fewer benefits than they would in a corporate or government job. Generally, they’ve made the choice because the work is meaningful and they genuinely care, want to help people, and improve the quality of life within their communities.

Despite the perk of knowing the importance of the work - in my case community building and community leadership - and it’s potential to make a difference, the truth is that it isn’t work for the faint of heart. It is tiring. What makes it tiring for me is not the typical 50 to 60 plus hours I work per week. I find that to be the fun part because I really do love what I do and would be doing it even if I didn’t get paid for it. Instead, what’s wearing me down is the responsibility for finding and fundraising the dollars to do it. Turns out, I’m not alone.

Having a sustainable source of revenue to pay for staff wages and basic day to day operation costs is something many employees take for granted. However, within non-profit settings it is a challenge that for many weighs heavily especially those that aren’t assured of annual government funding.

So what does that have to do with the average citizen and why should you care?

The reality is that if the non-profit sector continues to lose ground in effectively attracting, developing, and retaining staff, its foundational infrastructure will be compromised and our communities will suffer.

The entire nonprofit and voluntary sector engages nearly as many full-time equivalent workers as all branches of manufacturing in the country. This sector - think social services, childcare, recreation, sport, health etc .- is eleven times larger than the entire automotive sector, and provides 6.8 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP).

A recent survey of over 569 nonprofit sector employees conducted by the Alberta Nonprofit Workforce Council shows that the nonprofit workforce demonstrates passion, skill, and commitment to their work, clients, and organizations. While many spoke of the disparity between wages in the nonprofit government and private sector, employees say they are highly motivated to work in the sector because the work is meaningful and significantly impacts others; their organization’s goals are not linked to profit but rather to affecting positive community change; and the work aligns with their training, interest, skills, personal values and passions. Employees reported that they are able to be innovative, creative, and they have flexibility within their work lives.

However, there were also concerns expressed about the shortage or unpredictability of funding and strong leadership and the importance of these two key influencers in reducing the sector’s ability to attract workers and meet the community needs.

Demanding work, not enough staff, underpaid staff and, at times, not the right staff because the right staff cannot be hired without a competitive wage – creates a slippery slope because the needs of the community and the clients haven’t changed.

Employees suggested employers can be more creative and progressive in how they acknowledge and compensate employees in order to attract, develop, and retain staff by offering flexible work schedules, alternative working arrangements, and extending medical benefits; providing paid professional development and presenting opportunities for advancement; empowering employees to own their role and developing a positive working environment; including employees in decision-making and recognizing their contributions; and advocating on behalf of their employees when negotiating with funders. Other suggestions included simple and easy-to-implement opportunities such as dress-down and pizza days, gift cards, and bonus time off.

Ultimately, like everyone else, employees in the non-profit sector want to be respected, appreciated and valued for their contributions, and be fairly compensated with a livable salary.

There is deep understanding that a choice to work in the sector is made not for financial gain, but for many personal reasons – and employees are asking that these choices be recognized and honoured as a way to demonstrate how staff are valued. Leaders within the sector, including boards and leadership teams, have the ability to have significant positive impact on the quality of the work experience for employees beyond the financial compensation challenge that is inherent within the sector

If it isn’t addressed, there is a perfect storm brewing that will ultimately impact the quality of life in our communities.

Posted on 01-15-12


Great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

•Posted by Pedro Pereira  on  11/17/14  at  11:55 AM

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