• April 16, 2014

Wall Street Crisis Will Affect Demands on the Nonprofit World -- and Its Work Force, Experts Say

The crisis on Wall Street – and the likelihood that billions in federal money will be spent soothing it – portend an era when government will need to turn more eagerly than ever to nonprofit organizations to serve social needs, said experts speaking Monday at a conference here on the state of the nonprofit work force.

The federal government is “going to have to find more efficient ways to do more,” said Paul Schmitz, president of Public Allies, a group with headquarters in Milwaukee that prepares young people for nonprofit jobs.

Lawmakers need to be educated about the role the nonprofit world can play in furthering their goals for society, he said. “This is a place when they can move things quickly, get them on the ground working.”

Charities also need government as much as government needs them, said another speaker, Lester M. Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, in Baltimore.

“The primary fiscal relationship in the sector is with government,” Mr. Salamon said. “The idea that you can run this sector purely on philanthropy is a myth.”

Much of the talk at the conference focused on a continuing puzzle for nonprofit employers: How to attract and keep younger workers. Mr. Schmitz pointed out that many college students and recent graduates lack basic knowledge of the nonprofit world — such as average nonprofit incomes, and what sorts of jobs are available.

“We often get stuck playing inside baseball,” he told nonprofit personnel executives attending the meeting. “We forget what it was like when were younger, before we knew the sector existed.”

Student-Loan Debts

Academic debt is a major stumbling block for young people who wish to take nonprofit jobs, said and Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University , who urged nonprofit employers to do more to help ease this burden for workers, as government agencies have done.

“It’s always an eye-opener when you realize that your organization is behind the federal government in doing something,” he said.

Heather McLeod Grant, co-author of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, urged nonprofit employers to pay as much attention to salaries at the lower reaches of the organizational hierarchy as they do to the senior ranks.

“Compensation really matters,” she said.

She also suggested that groups take no- or low-cost steps, such as creating peer networks, mentoring opportunities, and flexible work hours, to help alleviate burnout at all levels of an organization.

Promoting Diversity

Speakers agreed that nonprofit employers in general need to commit more fully to diversity in building their staffs. Mr. Salamon said his studies of nonprofit groups have found that only one-third of organizations have put processes in place to attract job candidates who are minorities.

“Nonprofits have to be much more intentional about recruiting,” he said. “Nonprofits tend to hire as opposed to recruit, whereas the business community is out there aggressively recruiting.” He cited focusing efforts on colleges with a high minority enrollment as one way to step up diversity recruiting.

Mr. Schmitz, who serves as chairman of the Nonprofit Sector Workforce Coalition, a group of more than 70 charities and foundations, mentioned the coalition’s plans to create a “Guidestar-like” Web site that will gather data from nonprofit employers on their diversity practices and staff makeup, and rate their success on measures of diversity.

Stephen Bauer, director of the Initiative for Nonprofit Sector Careers and Management Institute, at American Humanics, in Kansas City, Mo., who is helping to shepherd the coalition’s project, said in an interview that it is still in the planning stages. Currently, he says, the organizers are poring over the results of a survey sent to nonprofit organizations to gauge obstacles to their participation.

The survey, he says, found that some organizations were unsure of the legality of revealing the gender, ethnicity, or race of its staff members, while others that had affiliates would need to develop a means of gathering such information from all their branches.

And, he notes, “Frankly, I think some of them are embarrassed at the [lack of] diversity of their staffs.”

The panel was part of a conference on human-resources issues sponsored by Nonprofit HR Solutions, a consulting company in Washington.

Heather Joslyn

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